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House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.

Topics

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I am very proud to participate in this debate. It is an issue which is very close to my heart and my political past, present and future, if I may put it that way.

I had the good fortune to be a member of the House when the question of the patriation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was before the House. I realize, looking around at some of the younger members in the House, that may strike them as a remarkably long time ago.

I had the opportunity to be present when the historic amendments were presented to the patriation bill, which advanced the cause of aboriginal self-government, by recognizing that the Constitution that was being adopted by the House could not take away from or deviate from existing treaty and other relationships between Canada's aboriginal people and the Government of Canada. That was accepted by the House and became a very important feature that allowed patriation to take place.

Subsequently, I became a member of the provincial legislature in Ontario and, as such, was very proud to have been able to participate in discussions around very important first nations issues that were discussed at Meech Lake and in Charlottetown. When I had the honour of becoming premier, I spent the first year of my mandate negotiating with the aboriginal chiefs in Ontario a statement of relationship between the Government of Ontario, and the nation-to-nation understanding that we were determined to reach between the Government of Ontario, and the first nations and aboriginal people of the province.

I do not come to this debate without a certain degree of history attached to its importance. After listening to the comments that have been made about the bill, I wonder really where everyone has been because the whole direction of public policy, affirmed very strongly in the report of the royal commission which was appointed by Prime Minister Mulroney, has been to recognize that we need a new relationship between the first nations people and the Government of Canada.

That relationship has to be one based on a profound mutual respect. It has to be based on a different and renewed understanding of the importance of the principle of self-government, what that means and entails, and we have to abandon the paternalism that is entrenched, seeps through and permeates the Indian Act. We have to move beyond that to a new relationship.

We have been able to do that in a number of situations and circumstances where new treaties have been signed and negotiated, but it must be said that since the defeat of the Charlottetown accord we have not been able to make the kind of progress in self-government discussions, which certainly I would have hoped and argued for.

I want to say in all sincerity to the parliamentary secretary, who has presented this afternoon the case for the bill and against the hoist motion which has been proposed by the Liberal Party, that I do not look upon this as a partisan issue. I really do not. I do not see this as an issue which, as he says, he does not want to see become politicized.

The whole question that is being discussed is not one that can be subject to an easy formula. When he says, for example, that this is as a result of the government's determination to do something on behalf of the most vulnerable, it is the phrase “on behalf of” about which we have to think through its implications.

Everyone in the House has to understand that if we are to take government-to-government relationships seriously, and I feel this very strongly as a member of Parliament, it means that I do not have a right to pass legislation that applies to first nations people and to first nations reserves unless that legislation has the full support of the people on whose behalf it is being proposed.

We have to abandon the kind of paternalism that unfortunately underlies this legislation. It simply is not possible at this time in our history for us to take this kind of approach. I know it is difficult. I know it is frustrating. I know it is costly. The parliamentary secretary has spent some time focusing on how much money was involved in consulting with the first nations people.

All I can say is, I want to see clear evidence that the legislation has the full support of the first nations governments of this country, has the full support of the first nations, those who are responsible within the first nations community and those who have a strong position, those people who sat across the table from me at Charlottetown, and those organizations which were represented on an equal basis sitting with us throughout the negotiations on the Charlottetown accord. We did not pass the Charlottetown accord over the heads of the people who were at that table. We only passed it because it had their support.

Was it difficult to do? Of course it was difficult.

I just listened to the comments made by members of the Bloc Québécois and the NDP. Frankly, I am a bit surprised. I would have thought that it had long been recognized that the first nations have the right to govern themselves and take responsibility for their own affairs in the new Canada we want to have and are trying to build. It cannot be said that the proposed legislation reflects that absolutely crucial idea of our real Constitution and, I would say, our future as Canadians.

However well meaning the bill may be and however much the government may believe that it has found the answer to a problem, the simple fact of the matter is that this legislation does not meet the fundamental test, that it has the active support and approval of the people who are being affected by this legislation. If we were to take self-government seriously, if we were to take that principle seriously, we would have to recognize that the legislation should not proceed in its current form, which is why we have moved the hoist motion.

I am disappointed that my colleagues in the New Democratic Party and in the Bloc Québécois do not take the same position. I am particularly disappointed because, knowing the history of those parties and knowing the position that they have taken on the question of self-government, knowing that it was the leader of the New Democratic Party in 1980 who moved the amendments to the patriation act that in fact ensured that treaty rights were recognized fully in the Constitution, knowing of the long history of Parti Québécois governments in the province of Quebec with respect to the importance of recognizing nation-to-nation relationships, and knowing the sensitivity of the Bloc Québécois to any notion of paternalism from those coming from outside, determining what is right and what is wrong, then I am doubly surprised, not shocked, but surprised.

I do not know what the fate of the hoist motion will be. Obviously, if the bill were to proceed to committee, we would do our very best. My colleague from Ottawa—Vanier made what I think was a very good proposal, which was that if the subject matter of the bill were referred to committee, we could have a without-prejudice discussion of some of the issues.

I want to emphasize one point. The parliamentary secretary made some comments about how people were prepared, perhaps, to come to the government who were not prepared to go to other native organizations because of what he referred to as the politics of the situation.

I have here a press release dated May 14, which is today, in which the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations and the AFN Women's Council united to express their opposition to the federal Bill C-8. It states:

The organizations are in agreement that Bill C-8 is a one dimensional approach to a complex problem that does not address the real issues in communities.

It goes on at some length to describe the reasons why they are opposed to the legislation, not that they have concerns about it, not that they want it to go to committee, but that they oppose it.

I have to say to my colleagues in the New Democratic Party that this will be the first time, certainly in my recollection, in which that party has voted to take a position with respect to an approach to legislation that is completely contrary to the leadership and to the membership of the organizations on whose behalf the legislation is being proposed. To put it mildly, I am surprised that would be the position of the New Democratic Party.

Be that as it may, it seems to me that we do have a responsibility as members of the House. We do have a responsibility to take self-government seriously. If we are to apologize for past errors, it is not enough to apologize for the mistakes that have been made in the past and then to say that despite that, we will still go ahead and pass legislation because we know better.

When the parliamentary secretary says that the UN says we should do it, then I am completely baffled. This, from a government which has refused to ratify the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, is a complete contradiction. I have never heard a good word about the United Nations coming from across the way with respect to any of its approaches to human rights, and on this one issue he picks some kind of report out of context and says that this is what we are supposed to do,.

I sincerely believe that if we are to take self-government seriously, that means not simply that we consult and say, “Thanks very much for your point of view, but we will go ahead and do this anyway”, but it means that we have to respond in a different way. We believe on this side of the House, in the Liberal Party, very strongly that measures such as these can only be taken if they have the full support and approval of those who are responsible, in leadership positions, in the first nations and aboriginal communities.

The parliamentary secretary said that some of the reason for this opposition was what he called “politics”. If he is saying that the leadership of the AFN has some kind of agenda, which does not allow it to support the legislation, he should tell us what he thinks that agenda is. I do not believe it is necessarily the case. He says that someone has to provide the leadership, that it can only come from the federal government.

This again repeats the same kind of paternalist thinking that has so bedevilled the discussion about aboriginal rights and the position of aboriginal people in Canada. The question of aboriginal property, the question of matrimonial property is difficult. The first problem is there are not enough people who have housing on native reserves. There are not enough people who are sufficiently housed to cope with the existing situation.

The cost of going to a provincial court structure can be expensive. The cost of going to a provincial court mediation process can be expensive. That is why the ministerial representative, who put forward her proposals, made it very clear. She said:

The viability and effectiveness of any legislative framework will also depend on necessary financial resources being made available for implementation of non-legislative measures such as programs to address land registry issues, mediation and other court related programs, local dispute resolution mechanisms, prevention of family violence programs, a spousal loan compensation fund and increased funding to support First Nation communities to manage their own lands. Without these kinds of supports from the federal government, matrimonial real property protections will simply not be accessible to the vast majority of First Nation people.

When Wendy Grant-John made that statement, she was not simply saying that this was something that was by the way, or by the side. She was saying that unless the government came forward with a full package that was effectively negotiated with those people who were being effective, what the government wanted to do would not even happen. The people the government points to as “the most vulnerable” will not be protected. This issue has to be addressed by the government.

Now more children are being taken into custody by provincial authorities and taken off-reserve and out of their families. Today more of that is happening than even at the time of the residential schools question. With respect to what is happening to aboriginal first nations families on reserve, there is a greater crisis today than perhaps there was in the 1950s and 1960s.

I know there is a certain point of view that would say that by passing this legislation, the House will begin to address some of these questions. I do not believe that for one second and neither does the leadership of the AFN, neither does the leadership of the Native Women's Association and neither does the AFN women's council. They are right. Those issues require a comprehensive discussion, negotiation and resolution between the Government of Canada and the native leadership with respect to those issues.

The AFN is being forced to go in front of the Human Rights Commission in order to argue the case that there is discriminatory funding as between what is happening to families on-reserves and what is happening to families off-reserve. These questions need to be resolved. This legislation does not resolve it. Nor does it touch it.

For my friends in the Bloc and the NDP who say let us get this legislation into committee and we will deal with it, the answer is no they will not. They will have to deal with the measures in front of them. They will have to deal with the legislation which the government has presented, which has a certain approach, a certain philosophy and a certain direction. That direction is to go the provincial courts and get the issues settled there and give the provincial courts the mandate and the mechanisms to deal with the problems that exist on-reserve with respect to family breakdown and the matrimonial home. In the current circumstance I do not think that will work. It will not work without a much greater degree of thought and resolution of the question than has been presented by the government.

I am in support of the hoist motion. I hope it is successful. If it is not successful, the bill will go to committee. That is what the Bloc and the NDP have said they think it should do. However, in all seriousness, they have to think through very carefully the implications of forcing a bill into committee against the will of the AFN and the Native Women's Association. Those organizations were represented during the constitutional discussions. They were present and participated in those discussions.

This disturbs me a great deal. Effectively, they are breaking away from the previous pattern that was set by the governments of Canada with respect to how we would make legal changes of this dimension. We would make them not simply with the consultation, but with the active consent of the first nations people of our country.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague mentioned his contributions to the issues that Canada dealt with in respect to our charter. There is no doubt history will recognize that he made contributions in that regard.

However, our charter also speaks to important equality protections. Sections 15 and 28 compel the government of the day to ensure that it holds up these important rights and protections, especially protections that would provide, as the bill would, the same kind of rights and basic remedies for women and children on reserve.

Notwithstanding that one must respect the consultation and that the leadership in first nations communities must have a mechanism to evolve the laws and rules of their own, which Bill C-8 does, the government of the day must take actions to compel those equalities, such as essential protections for the rights and protections of women and children against violence.

Notwithstanding his eloquent comments, does the member not believe that we should, in this case, stand on the side of protecting women and children against violence and giving them the same rights and remedies as all other non-aboriginal families across the country?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I do not see a word in the bill that deals with the question of family violence. I would invite the member to have a look at the press release that came out today from the Native Women's Association of Canada. It said:

—Bill C-8 should be scrapped in favour of a new approach. This may include non-legislative measures such as local dispute resolution processes and community-based solutions. The urgent need for housing, counselling services and emergency shelters on-reserve must also be addressed.

That is not contained in the bill, and I am quoting from President Jacobs in the press release. She went on to say:

Aboriginal women, girls and children continue to be subjected to violence and are often forced to leave their homes and communities to be safe. Aboriginal women have consistently stated that they want safe communities where they, their children and future generations can live. Above all else, any resolution needs to ensure that this happens.

The reason I quote this at length is because it is important that the government reflects on what it is hearing. What it is hearing from the leadership of the women's movement in the first nations community is the bill does not do it. If the bill does not do it, my view is it should not be passed.

If the Native Women's Association of Canada says that the bill should not be passed, but should be scrapped instead and we pass this legislation on behalf of native women, I have a problem. I think we all have a problem. We have a fiduciary obligation. We cannot just say that we think this is a good idea so we will pass it. I have to listen to the people who say that there are things I do not understand, that there are unintended consequences to what has been proposed that will happen as a result of what I pass. When they tell me not to do it, I listen.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, there are a couple of things that need to be stated. The member laid out his background on the issue. He stated that there were issues that needed to be dealt with and that the bill would not get it done. He stated that in his view this should not go farther.

What we heard was an excellent overview of a critique of a bill that can happen in this place and it can happen at committee, and it is exactly what many of us want to see.

I know Beverley well. I do not think it is fair or smart to say that if we are against the motion right now, as a group, as a party, then we are not with native women. I hope the member is not saying that. I would like the member to clarify that. I think that many of us, who have been with Beverley and others on a regular basis on these issues, clearly want to work with them. Maybe we disagree on how we get this done.

If we vote against this, it is not against native women. It is about doing it differently and doing it in another way. Hopefully if we do get to committee, the member will support a critique and open the space for native women there.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

First, Madam Speaker, I was quite sincere when I said at the beginning that I did not regard this as a partisan issue. I will not attack the motivation of any other member who has a different position than I have. I fully appreciate that people have very strong views with respect to individual rights, women's rights, gender issues and see this as being fundamental to the question.

I think my colleague across the way from Simcoe, whom I have known for a long time, said that we take our obligations under sections 15 and 28 seriously. If the hon. members goes back and looks at the debates that took place in 1979, 1980 and 1981, we wrestled with the question of the balances between self-government and sections 15 and 28. Those debates will go on long after the hon. member from Simcoe and I gone. They will continue and that is a healthy thing in a constitutional democracy.

For my colleague, the member for Ottawa Centre, , I respect his views a great deal on this question and on many others. My problem is it is a question of how seriously we take self-government. If we take it seriously, we have to listen to the people who tell us not to pass the bill. We have to listen to the ministerial representative who has said that there are all kinds of ancillary questions and all kinds of other questions that have to be dealt with properly, but they will not be if the bill is passed in its current framework.

My concern is a lot of things are being sought by those who are critical of the bill, which that the bill itself does not address and the bill itself cannot address. What those people are looking for is a broader approach and commitment from the government than they are currently seeing. That is the challenge we are facing.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Madam Speaker, I have a quick question for the member opposite. I know he has been talking about consultation as have his other colleagues. Clearly the Liberal members did not consult their opposition party members in relation to their motion.

As an aboriginal person from the west, having met with many first nations women, clearly there is a great desire to have the opportunity to have matrimonial real property rights. I know the member is suggesting that there needs to be unanimous consultation. We as parliamentarians, when we see something that needs to be rectified, we need to act.

Would the member not agree that we, as parliamentarians, need to extend this opportunity to first nations women?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I will try to state my view in as clear a fashion as I can, and the member is certainly entitled to disagree with it.

I think the way I expressed it in the debate was to say this. I do not believe the House should be passing legislation which in my view inherently touches on self-government and on other aboriginal rights with respect to property and to self-government without their consent. That is my position.

My position is the House cannot, as it did with the Indian Act in the same old manner, say that it knows best, that it knows what has to happen, that it will do this and will take these steps. I do not believe we have the right to do that.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest, and my position was invoked many times.

The question I would ask of the member for Toronto Centre is this. There is a fiduciary obligation on the part of the government. He described the bill as being paternalistic. I believe it is not paternalistic. I believe there is a fiduciary obligation. Would the member like to comment?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, the member and I may have a different view of what that fiduciary obligation is. I certainly believe we have a fiduciary obligation with respect to the rights of all Canadians, and constitutionally the federal government obviously has a responsibility with respect to first nations and those who are described as Indians in the Indian Act.

I also believe we have a fiduciary obligation to recognize that there is an inherent right to self-government. I have spent most of my political life arguing in favour of that, sometimes in situations where it was very difficult. If we are to take self-government--

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I regret to interrupt the hon. member, but the time for that debate has expired.

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, Public Safety; the hon. member for Don Valley West, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Avalon, Employment Insurance.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Vancouver East.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to be involved in this very important debate.

I was in the House earlier when I heard our member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, who is the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP, lay out the concerns we have with the bill, but she also laid out the concerns we have with the hoist motion. In the back and forth exchange that goes on in the House, it was actually rather disappointing to hear what came from Liberal members.

I cannot think of any other member in the House who has worked harder on aboriginal affairs than the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, not only in her own community but across the country. She is a strong advocate for aboriginal people and brings forward their issues to this Parliament.

To hear from Liberal members that by supporting the bill we are denying the rights of aboriginal people was, frankly, very perplexing and makes me wonder what kind of political agenda is going on here. The issue we have is with the hoist motion and what it would do.

In terms of the bill that is before us on matrimonial real property, as the member earlier outlined, it is an issue that has been outstanding for decades. The treatment of aboriginal people is really a black mark on Canadian history, and the fact that so much has been left undone. We arrive at points of crisis in so many communities, whether it is around housing, water, education or self-governance, because we have not paid attention to these issues over so long a time.

I actually remember the debate in the House of Commons on the Nisga'a treaty, which was the first modern-day treaty in the province of British Columbia with a first nation. I remember the clash with the Conservatives, who were then the opposition, who opposed the bill. There were hundreds of amendments. We spent 72 hours going through those amendments.

The clash was over the issue of individual rights, property rights and collective rights. There was a fundamental lack of understanding by the Conservatives at the time, who could not agree to a treaty that did not enshrine individual property rights. It showed a lack of understanding about the history of first nations people on this land and it showed a lack of sensitivity about the traditions, values, practices and processes that have built up over thousands of years.

So it is interesting that here we are again today debating this issue, which again involves fundamental rights and recognition of aboriginal practices and history.

It is clear, though, that there is a very serious issue here. There is no guarantee or insurance that the equality and rights of women are being upheld in the aboriginal community. We see difficult situations. We see situations of poverty and of violence. They are systemic and long-standing. I would agree that this legislation is not going to fix all those things. Nevertheless we have to recognize that at some point there has to be a process and a place where these issues will be dealt with.

Wendy Grant-John, the ministerial representative on the matrimonial real property issues on reserves, is very well known in B.C. and across the country as a leader. Her report was significant in documenting, as a result of her consultations, what this issue is about.

In the conclusions and recommendations in her report, she states very clearly:

The diverse laws, policies, and legal traditions of First Nations are reflected in the approaches taken by them to allotment of housing, to land and to family relationships. The diverse experience and responses of First Nations to the process of colonization are also reflected in their contemporary laws and policies...Accommodating and respecting this diversity must be an element of any legislative initiative respecting matrimonial real property on reserves.

Then she further states:

The basic scheme of the Act would be a concurrent jurisdiction model with paramountcy of First Nations law where there is inconsistency or conflict with either federal or provincial law with respect to matrimonial property. In this regard, the maximum scope of lawmaking responsibility should be left to First Nations’ jurisdiction and federal activity should be as minimal as required to meet human rights concerns.

The observations contained in this report that were left largely unaddressed by the government are very important considerations as we deal with this bill. We are now at the critical point of deciding what is to be done. We have a bill before us and the Liberals have moved a hoist motion, which I find surprising. If that is their response to the bill, it is removing this critical issue that needs to be dealt with from the legislative process. A hoist motion is just that: It takes the bill out. It is gone forever, for all intents and purposes.

We in the NDP find this very perplexing and think a preferable course of action would be to recognize that this bill is flawed, and again, the NDP member for Nanaimo—Cowichan was absolutely clear on that this morning. She laid out some of the difficulties with this bill.

It is the process that is important here. We want to ensure there is a process that will produce an outcome that creates the public space for the Native Women's Association of Canada, the AFN, local groups and other organizations to be able to talk about this bill and actually articulate what needs to be done, based in part, I am sure, on the conclusions and recommendations that came from the ministerial representative I just quoted.

From a practical point of view, we have a lot of concern about a motion that will, in effect, shut down debate on this issue. It is up to the committee to hear testimony from organizations that are directly involved, to hear directly from first nations and to change the bill. The committee may decide at that point that the bill should go. That is a mandate of a committee, to look at that legislation and decide what needs to be done.

We need to take that step, allow the space to be created and ensure that this debate does not get halted and that we do not just hoist the issue out of the air and say, “That is that end of that. We hope the government will bring it back and we are going to put some pressure on them”. The fact is that we are in a legislative process right now. We have the opportunity to make sure that people are heard and to come to the right conclusions about what we are hearing. That is the important point.

I take great offence not so much to the comments that were made by the member for Toronto Centre a little while ago, but some of the comments made earlier by the Liberal members debating this bill and equating the fact that, because we do not support their hoist motion, somehow we are opposed to aboriginal rights, that we are not upholding the rights of women and that we do not want to deal with this issue. Nothing could be further from the truth. I find it quite offensive that this line would be taken. In effect, it has now politicized the issue.

Again, as the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan said earlier this afternoon, let us not politicize this issue. Let us work with people in a real way, bring in the representatives of first nations and have an intelligence discussion. Let us look at the bill and recognize the fundamental flaws it has.

I have been reading some of the material from the Native Women's Association of Canada and I know that even in my own community in east Vancouver there are very strong arguments that need to be spoken to in terms of the fact that there have not been even short-term programs and policies enacted that would deal with the serious situation facing women and children with regard to family breakup and the separation of children.

Every day in my community in east Vancouver, I see people come off reserve into the urban environment seeking jobs and housing. They find a situation where life is very difficult and where the programs, the supports and the work environment are not there. We are now facing a tragedy in many communities.

I would agree with the Native Women's Association of Canada. They make it very clear that the practical yet critical issues of violence, poverty, chronic shortage of houses, lack of shelters and second stage housing in communities must be addressed on a priority basis. I absolutely agree. We should be using every avenue we have to do that. In fact, we should be using the bill to draw attention to it. If we can get it into committee, we can focus and highlight the tension on some of these issues.

We heard a report today from Stats Canada about the incredible increase in the number of women who are using emergency shelters. Most of these shelters are completely overburdened. This is happening today, and it is very alarming.

To think about these issues, to take action and to use the powers we have as members of Parliament, to use the legislative process to the fullest capacity we can to put the spotlight on the bill, to point out those significant flaws and to point out the inadequacies of the bill and what needs to be done is where we should be going.

Here we are debating a hoist motion, and we are accusing each other of this and that. I really hope that if the bill does go through on second reading and it goes to committee that the Liberal members will pay full attention to ensuring the debate happens and that witnesses come forward so we can work together and put pressure on the Conservative government to do the right thing. I think that is very critical.

A number of years ago, as the housing critic for the NDP, I travelled across the country and looked at housing situations. I was very familiar with housing in the urban environment and the homelessness that was increasing at that time. Of course, it is still a serious question. I also went to a lot of smaller communities, including in northern Manitoba.

One of the most shocking things I saw was in northern Manitoba. It was not the only place. There are other remote communities on reserve where the housing was so appalling that I could see the gap between the window and the frame and the weather coming in. People did not even have running water or sanitary facilities. I could not believe my eyes. I thought I had seen the worst housing possible in places like the downtown eastside. It was only when I went north and saw housing on reserve that I began to understand how serious the situation was with first nations people living in deep poverty in third world conditions.

The worst of it was that this housing was built by CMHC. This was actually government built housing that was meant to be safe and adequate for families.

I remember meeting family members. I met a mother in Churchill who told me her child had been taken away by the family services because she was homeless. It was not because she was a bad mother; it was because she was homeless. She was living in a shelter, she was couch surfing, and her kid was taken away.

In my own community, this is a very familiar story. It is almost like a new kind of residential school. Children are taken away because the resources are not there to support the family. The number of children being taken away from aboriginal families is very alarming.

Those are all issues that are underlying the bill. I would certainly agree with some of the comments that have been made today by Liberal members and others. That is what we have to address. The question remains how we address it and where one begins.

I think we have to begin with the powers we have. We have to use those powers in a way that is responsible and in a way that people who are impacted by this debate, first nations, are actually participating in that debate.

The way to do that is to send this bill to committee and hear from those folks. The committee will then make a determination as to whether the bill is to be amended and whether changes can be made that are satisfactory. Based on the testimony they hear, the committee may make another decision. I really hope the Liberals will support that if this bill goes to committee.

As I understand it, by supporting the hoist motion we will in effect be abandoning this issue. We will be abandoning the legislative process that is open to us to focus on this very important issue of matrimonial real property. We will be shutting out voices that need to be heard.

We will be saying that we will just keep the pressure up and it will be dealt with. That means another 23 years will probably go by. It was 23 years ago that the Supreme Court of Canada made it clear that new laws needed to be enacted.

There has been so much time that has gone by. We need to ask if there was so much concern about this issue from the Liberal members why nothing was done during their term in office. This issue went on and on. It was unattended to, and here we are today.

I feel we are taking a responsible course of action. We are making a responsible decision. For others in this House to go after our members and say we do not care or we do not support this issue is really quite outrageous.

I would like to thank the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan for the amount of work she has done in bringing this and other issues into the House. She has been tireless in that effort. I know that members of the Bloc are also hopeful that this bill will get to committee.

Her only goal, our only goal, and we would hope the goal of other members in the House, is to make sure these issues are addressed and not abandoned as they have been year after year.

That is where we are. There is a lot more work to be done. The House will be recessing sometime in June. I think it is very important to begin that discussion with first nations, women's organizations and the parties affected to begin a genuine process to figure out whether the bill is to be changed or defeated.

That has to be done at committee. That is what is open to us, and that is what we should be using.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I know the hon. member sees these issues very much in her community, as we see the issues affecting first nations people in our communities. I have five first nations communities in my riding. Some of them have situations that are akin to the type of deplorable conditions we would only find in third world countries.

As the AFN has been requesting for a long time, I would like to ask my colleague if she thinks one of the root things this Parliament has to do in consultation with first nations communities is to scrap the Indian Act and replace it with something within the legal framework of our country established with first nations people that would more enable first nations communities to develop, expand and create the development they require.

Right now they are actually hamstrung by the Indian Act in ways that others cannot even hope to imagine. In fact, those in a non-aboriginal community have one-fourth the amount of administrative and bureaucratic red tape to go through versus an aboriginal community. That is deplorable. It is a huge obstruction to aboriginal communities being able to develop and become economic masters of their future.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member knows, the NDP has long been a champion of aboriginal self-governance and we have supported the treaty process.

I began my remarks by speaking about the Nisga'a treaty, which was the first modern day treaty that was negotiated. It came through Parliament. It concerned the lands of the Nisga'a in British Columbia.

The Indian Act is an archaic thing. People in my community see it as very paternalistic, authoritarian, and prescribing limits on people's lives, potential and capacity.

The NDP has always stood up for the implementation of first nations governance. We have always supported that, and we have supported accelerating the treaty process. However, how that is done is very important. If the Indian Act is to be just thrown out, I think the key is that it is not done in the way that was contemplated by the Liberal government but in a consultative manner. Whether it is this bill or the Indian Act as a whole, it has to be a fair and just process that includes people so the outcome is actually going to serve those communities.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to pursue the point about the role the former Liberal government took in 2003-04. I was involved in some of the committee hearings around the legislation. At that time, the minister, supported by the government of the day, brought forward four bills. I recall this because I was part of the filibuster, led by the Bloc and the NDP member for Winnipeg Centre, to oppose that legislation at committee.

When one looks at the history of the Liberal Party and sees that it voted with the Conservatives on the most recent budget, which I do not even think mentioned the first nations, I want to ask the hon. member if there is any credibility to the party's position today in terms of the hoist motion.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh on his award yesterday as the most knowledgeable member of the House. We should listen to his words, because he knows more than the Liberal members, I think. Congratulations to him on his award.

I remember those filibusters in the committee. I, too, sat in on some of the sessions that went way into the night. It is a reflection of how not to do something. It is history and those things happen. In a way, it is a tragedy. We are debating these same issues today about violence, safety, homelessness, lack of housing, poverty, and lack of rights that we were debating eight or nine years ago, going back to the court decision in 1986, and 100-plus years ago. That is the tragedy of this.

The NDP wants to focus on a process that is right, that involves people, that gives space in a committee for voices to be heard so that we can get this bill right or throw it out if it is wrong.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to advance some ideas for dealing with poverty in first nations communities, on reserve and off reserve.

There are a couple of concrete solutions that the government needs to address, and I will ask the hon. member if her party would support these. One is to make sure there is equal funding for aboriginal children versus non-aboriginal children. Right now there is a huge discrepancy in funding. This is deplorable, because kids cannot have access to the resources they need to get the education they require if there is such a huge difference in funding.

Second, there are places like Attawapiskat where the conditions are so bad that kids are freezing in their schools. How can they possibly learn when they are wearing parkas and they are frozen to the bone? Other communities, like mine, in Pacheedaht, have been on boil water advisories for huge chunks of time. The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs ignores their requests repeatedly. How can one have communities on Vancouver Island where they do not have access to potable water? It is absolutely remarkable.

The basics are not being addressed by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, which has a huge budget.

I ask the hon. member what she thinks of truncating the size of the department of Indian affairs, downloading those responsibilities with the capacity building on the ground so people can take care of themselves and that first nations communities have the structure for direct investment that will enable them to generate funds to provide for their people.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the most terrible thing is that none of the issues the member has raised are new. How many times have we heard the member for Timmins—James Bay raise in the House what is happening in his community around the school situation? There are many other communities. It is also happening in the urban areas to aboriginal people who are off reserve.

I am very frustrated that we are still talking about a rethink of what we should be doing. The principles here are of upholding aboriginal rights, recognizing the need for self-governance and providing the resources. That did not happen under Liberal governments. It has not happened under Conservative governments.

We feel a very strong responsibility in our party to be the strongest advocates possible to make sure that these issues are addressed in terms of the systemic issues and legal issues so that we do not have to go through some kind of rethink, but that we actually begin to provide the resources that are needed today to ensure that every aboriginal man, woman, child and family are living in dignity and respect in our society.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to say right off the bat that I will support the motion, but I want to explain why. In doing so, I hope to convince my colleagues in the NDP and the Bloc to seriously consider that the avenue we are suggesting might be the better course.

I want first to demonstrate that, under the able stewardship of the member for Simcoe North as chair of the aboriginal affairs committee, the committee has been demonstrating exemplary cooperation. I see him nodding his head in agreement. We have had the opportunity to deal with two bills already.

Those bills were Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Indian Oil and Gas Act, and Bill C-28, this very day.

In both cases, the government bills were supported by representatives of the aboriginal communities and the responsible bodies concerned with the issues involved. They appeared before us. In one of the two cases, the bill was tweaked slightly with government consent. That was done unanimously. Today, a minor amendment was made to Bill C-28, and the bill was passed without much discussion.

I raise this point for two reasons. First, to demonstrate that, as far as the official opposition is concerned—and I dare say in this instance also of the two other parties in opposition —there is a desire for cooperation and for doing things properly. The other reason is also very important. In both cases, the bills passed in committee after being passed here at second reading had the unconditional support of the aboriginal communities. That is not the case for Bill C-8, and I feel that needs to be said.

I want to talk about the process for awhile. Parliament is a wonderful thing. It shows flexibility, ingenuity and a way sometimes of dealing with things in different ways, to improve our ways, to make sure that people are heard, to make sure people have an opportunity to express themselves in respect of an overall democratic will.

This is the 40th Parliament. In the 39th Parliament what I am going to talk about happened three times and in the 38th Parliament, which is where it started in earnest, it happened quite often. I am talking about referral of a government bill to committee before second reading. This is something we must consider very carefully.

In a minority Parliament in particular, that means that before a bill is adopted at second reading, it is referred to a committee. The government can do that on its own. It can determine that a bill will go to committee after five hours of debate whether the opposition parties want it to or not. The difference between referring a bill to committee before second reading or after second reading is very important. After second reading the House has stated its approval in principle of what is contained in the bill. Amendments are very restricted in nature. They can constrain, or they can orient a little more precisely certain things, but they cannot expand. Therefore, the capacity of a committee to change a bill is very different if the bill is adopted and referred to committee after second reading as opposed to being referred to committee before second reading. That is crucial for a number of reasons.

That was done over 30 times in the 38th Parliament. I thought that demonstrated a willingness to engage parliamentarians of all parties in shaping legislation. Beyond that, it involved the witnesses and those interested in the legislation as they came to committee because it gave a wider range to parliamentarians in effect to give shape to the legislation.

In the 39th Parliament, it happened three times. In this Parliament it has not happened yet. In the 39th Parliament and this Parliament, even though at times opposition members recommended and the House approved the notion that bills be referred to committee before second reading in order to have that flexibility, that capacity to engage the witnesses, to really engage the expertise in the country to shape legislation as a better expression of the common will, it has not been happening. It has not happened a single time in this Parliament.

I know my colleague from Simcoe North knows what I am talking about because I brought this up at committee. It is an act of respect of Parliament for a minority government to ask that legislation be referred to committee before second reading. It gives the ability of all members on that committee to bring a constructiveness to it. It gives an opportunity to all witnesses to be taken seriously, and perhaps to suggest amendments. It engages all kinds of NGOs. It engages academia. It engages the private sector. In this case it certainly would have engaged the aboriginal communities across the land, the same aboriginal communities that have said they are not supportive of Bill C-8.

I was listening very closely to my colleague from Toronto Centre and my colleague from Ottawa Centre and they were not contradicting each other. My colleague from Ottawa Centre said we should send it to committee where we could amend it and I totally agree with him. Let us send it to committee where the committee can do some real work and shape this legislation and have the witnesses engage in shaping it so that it becomes a constructive exercise and not a confrontation exercise as it might turn out to be if we do it this way.

That is why the motion to defer the matter for six months would give the government an opportunity to consider seriously consulting widely.

Honestly, I would have preferred if the government had chosen to send the bill to committee before second reading. I do not think we would be having this debate. The committee is working very well. It could have demonstrated to Canadians its capacity to do so. It could have engaged the aboriginal community in a very thorough manner, taking whatever time was needed, having as many meetings as were needed in order to listen to proposals and suggestions. The committee has demonstrated that ability and it could have demonstrated it even more so.

Because the government chose not to do that, we are now caught in the situation where our party, I think very legitimately, is saying that because the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada are saying they do not like the bill, we should hoist it. The hoist motion calls for a delay of six months.

If the government would step back and consider that perhaps the bill should have been referred to committee before second reading, this would all be over. The committee has demonstrated its capacity to work, to fully engage in a very serious matter. It could engage all the witnesses that want to be engaged in a constructive legislative exercise. Unfortunately, because the government chose not to refer the bill to committee before second reading, we are into the current situation.

Once again, I would ask my Bloc Québécois and NDP colleagues to consider one point very seriously. We are not opposed to sending this bill to committee. However, we would like the committee responsible for studying it to have the kind of freedom that it cannot have if the bill goes to committee after second reading. That is crucial.

From what I can tell, today and for some time now, we have been getting very clear signals from aboriginals, from the Assembly of First Nations, from the Native Women's Association of Canada and other stakeholders. Personally, as a member of the committee, I have heard from a lot of people. They are very concerned about this bill, about how it was written, about what it contains, and about what it does not contain. If we have to restrict ourselves to a more limited range of amendments because the House has passed this bill at second reading, we will end up limiting Parliament's ability to do good work. I suggest that my colleagues give that some serious thought.

If—all together—we do tell the government that we want to do this work, that is fine, but let us do it with the latitude, flexibility and desire to be constructive that this committee has demonstrated so far. All of the committee members, whether they represent the NDP, the Bloc, the Liberals or the Conservatives, have demonstrated good will and the ability to work well together.

I had hoped that the government would seize this opportunity to try to resolve, once and for all, a problem that has been around for years, even decades, to resolve it constructively, which a minority government or Parliament can do if it so chooses. That would have been a strong indication of the government's respect for Parliament and for aboriginal communities in Canada. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. We believe that we should not proceed with the bill as written. Aboriginal communities are not happy with it.

I also think that there is another reason this bill is a step in the wrong direction.

It is another topic that we broached at committee time and again and I hope we explore even further. I see my colleague from Simcoe North nodding again. It is the concept of honour of the Crown. I readily admit that I am not yet grounded enough in the concept to fully comprehend all of its ramifications, but I know that it is rather far-reaching.

The honour of the Crown concept is one that has been invoked by the Supreme Court in matters dealing with aboriginal communities to strike down legislation. The last time I heard it was used was by the aboriginal communities in British Columbia to basically tell the government that it cannot sell properties, as it was planning to. The department had this plan to sell nine properties, two of which were in B.C. and two of which were subject to land claims by aboriginal communities. Because the government had not consulted these communities, the Supreme Court essentially said that the honour of the Crown concept applied and it could not sell those two buildings. They were withdrawn from the package of assets of buildings that the Crown was selling.

The honour of the Crown concept is a concept that applies to all things aboriginal and beyond that. In this case, I would think that if we were to proceed with this bill in the manner we are proposing, which is to force it through the House at second reading so that the committee is restricted in its ability to give it shape, listen to the witnesses and give voice to their concerns in a constructive way, the bill would be subject to court challenges quite readily if it were to become law.

As legislators, we have a duty to try to prevent that. We have a duty to construct good law according to principles that were established in our Constitution. If we were to proceed this way, when we have heard that the consultation might not have been as thorough or as listened to as the aboriginal communities would have hoped, perhaps we would then be creating faulty legislation that would be subject to fairly serious challenges on this notion of honour of the Crown. This must permeate what we do as agents of the Crown. We are Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. The government is her agent. Together, we have responsibilities toward the Crown.

I am not sure that proceeding this way is the best way to fulfill these obligations or fiduciary responsibilities. We can call them what we will. As we continue the work in committee, I would hope that this concept becomes much more well understood by members of the committee and beyond. I think it is a concept that we will see coming much more to the fore as we try to honour the new spirit of working with aboriginal communities throughout this land.

I will sum up briefly because I only have a few minutes left.

My colleagues must understand that we are not trying to avoid taking action or to reject everything. We are telling the government that there is a more constructive way to approach a very delicate problem. I believe all parties agree that the bill attempts to resolve a very complex and delicate situation.

To draft a law that will be accepted by everyone, we must all put a little water in our wine and we must be prepared to hear from those most affected. Those people have been telling us for weeks that they cannot support this bill and they have asked the government to not proceed with it. That places us in a difficult situation.

I will come back to my basic premise: had the government truly wanted to give parliamentarians the latitude to work together and create a bill to reflect the collective will of all political parties and all aboriginal communities, it could have referred this bill to committee before second reading. It chose not to do so.

Earlier, I asked the parliamentary secretary why the government did not do so and chose instead to force a vote at second reading.

The government is therefore asking for approval in principle. It has chosen to limit the committee's power, after having listened to witnesses, to propose constructive amendments and—together—the government and the members of the three opposition parties—to develop a bill that we could all have been proud of. It could have taken another approach.

The members of the official opposition take their duty seriously. By proposing this motion, we are telling the government that it is not taking the right approach.

I will make a last appeal to the good will of my Bloc and NDP colleagues. What we are proposing today could be avoided altogether if we all told the government to refer the bill to committee before second reading. We must give the committee, which has already demonstrated its competence, the tools to do the work that is needed. We have a great deal of listening to do. We must listen to all those who wish to participate. We must take their grievances into account. When we find contradictions and disagreements, we must look for common ground.

As responsible parliamentarians, we must find a way to produce a bill that really reflects the government's responsibilities and our responsibilities as parliamentarians, our responsibilities under the Canadian Constitution and our responsibilities that arise from Supreme Court of Canada rulings.

This all could have been moved ahead by referring the bill to committee before second reading. I do not know why the government, a minority government, stubbornly refuses to refer any bills to committee. Many committees, such as the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, which I mentioned earlier, have a proven record.

The chair of that committee, a government member, is nodding his head in agreement with my assertion that the members of that committee have proven that they work well together.

Both bills we studied were fully supported by aboriginal communities. However, aboriginal communities are not in favour of the bill we are being asked to support here today, and that is a serious problem.

I implore the government to reconsider its approach and do its homework over again in order to come up with a solution that will be better for everyone.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

moved that Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-309. This proposed legislation looks to take the current federal economic development initiative for northern Ontario, otherwise known as FedNor, and convert it into an agency.

Before I go into the details why I believe FedNor ought to become a full-fledged government agency, I would like to discuss two main facts about the Canadian economy.

The economy of Canada is not one homogeneous entity. Different regions face different challenges. They have different growth rates, different strengths, and different weaknesses. Each region is unique and deserves special attention so that it can flourish and allow its residents to provide for their families and to live a decent and prosperous life.

Contrary to what the Conservative government believes, the federal government does not have an important role to play in promoting and encouraging the full potential of Canada's regions.

Having said this, there are a number of steps that can be taken by all levels of government to promote regional economic development.

First, there must be a fundamental recognition and understanding of the fact that different regions require different policies to develop their full economic potential. One size does not fit all when it comes to economic development. It is only by understanding that regions have different economic potential, that the essential building blocks can be put in place to ensure that full advantage can be taken of all available resources.

Second, the structure or, perhaps more important, the people who operate the structure have to understand the impact that they have on the economy, so that adjustments can be made on an ongoing basis to ensure that the economic realities of that region are being properly addressed. These changes are most effective when they are proposed by local people who are most directly affected by the impact of their recommendations.

So, having the structure in place is important. What is crucial, however, is that the people in charge understand what is happening in the regional economy. That being said, I would like to talk about the programs we have in place at this time.

Prior to the announcement made in budget 2009, the government had four regional economic development organizations. There were three agencies, which were the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, better known as ACOA, Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions, better known as DEQ, and Western Economic Diversification Canada.

Then after the 2009 budget SODA was added, Southern Ontario Development Agency, as well as the new regional economic development agency for the north. Now we have five different entities. One is a program and the rest are agencies. Why is northern Ontario different than all the rest?

Let us look at the difference between a program and an agency. The minister will tell us that words “program” and “agency” have no effect under Canadian law. He is right. Under Canadian law, there is no difference, but as far as Parliament goes, there is a difference. What separates FedNor from its counterparts is that each of the counterparts has an act of Parliament establishing it as a separate entity and outlining its mandate and powers, while FedNor does not.

The status of an agency in legislation means that the federal government requires the consent of Parliament to change or alter the agency's powers or its mandate.

In essence, a program can be changed, manipulated or even eliminated on a whim. We know the Prime Minister has often spoken of eliminating regional economic development programs and agencies. He does not believe in them. This is something that really worries me, losing everything we have because the Prime Minister decides he does not believe in them any more.

This bill would protect us from all governments, future and present. We know the present one does not believe in it, but future governments have to be protected as well.

The regions have their differences and those differences have to be respected. The Conservatives will claim that the free market system will take care of everything. We know that is not the case. We have just gone through the last six months, which have been outrageous, and it really has not worked for us. If we go with a free market system as the Conservatives would like, we would end up with some major centres in Canada, perhaps five large urban centres where the mass of the population would live and the regions would have nothing. There would be a vast waste land in between them. Everything would gravitate to where it is cheapest for large providers to provide services. That is not my Canada.

One of the other arguments that comes up is financial reporting. Currently FedNor's performance and financial reports are included as a chapter of Industry Canada's reports on plans and priorities and departmental performance reports. It is not a big chapter.

As a separate agency, under the Financial Administration Act, FedNor would be required to file detailed financial and performance reports for tabling in Parliament. The reports on plans and priorities would outline the agency's objectives, programs, spending plans and departmental performance reports, which evaluate whether the objectives have been met and provide the details of previous spending.

Let me elaborate on what that means in simpler terms. As an agency FedNor, would file estimates. Estimates give full details of what is planned for the coming year. From this, one can take a much closer look at the list of proposed funding and activities that are being planned and managed for the upcoming year, so they have a good vision of where the economic development is going in a certain region.

As a program on the other hand, the details become lost as part of the budget of Industry Canada. This means that as it stands now FedNor, as a program, really has no details. There is no breakdown of activities. There is nothing but a few numbers which imply that the program can be played with by the Prime Minister at his will or the minister himself.

Unlike an agency, reports for a program can only be seen at year end. To add insult to injury, it takes another six to eight months before those numbers come out, if we are lucky. After year end, we have to look at the detailed compilation of expenses, activities and reviews, but that is as much as 18 months after the beginning of the process.

It is like driving a car and concentrating on the rear view mirror. We cannot really look to the future. We are seeing what is behind us all the time. With regional economic development, we really have to look ahead and see where we will go, where we want to be and what kind of programs we want to have in place.

A prime example of what I am talking is this. Recently at the industry, science and technology committee, I asked the minister for detailed estimates for FedNor for the upcoming year. When I asked for those details, he said that he could give me something called “Northern Spirit”, which is a brochure. It is very colourful, it has beautiful pictures and it has all kinds of neat stories in it. I am sure some of the members on the other side were disappointed because the pictures were already coloured in. It was a really pretty brochure with no numbers, not one. It was basically a pamphlet that was handed out. We looked at it and put it aside.

What we are looking for is estimates, something that breaks down exactly what we can expect over the next year, and then plan for it.

Another problem is that the program does not have a minister to look after that and that alone. Under the Liberals, we had a minister of state for FedNor. Since the Conservative government has been in power, there has been no minister for FedNor. That portfolio now comes under Industry Canada, and that worries me.

Just this morning, I was speaking with a municipal councillor from northern Ontario. He said FedNor has received a number of applications, but they are still sitting on the minister's desk. They are sitting there and have not been approved. From what I have heard, nearly $8 million could be put into the economy. That money is not in the economy; it is sitting on the minister's desk. I understand that industry is a large portfolio and I am sure the minster must be very busy. However, we cannot forget the smaller regions. I know he is kept busy by the auto industry and many others, but northern industries like forestry are vital to northern Ontario. It is very important that these investments be approved so they can return to northern Ontario's economy.

Something I often think about is the fact that the people of northern Ontario are not second class citizens. We are Canadians like everyone else, like all voters. So, if a program exists, it should be given the same level of respect as an agency. That is the goal of my bill.

The Conservatives said previously that they did not intend to support Bill C-309 because it would lead to an increase in costs in bureaucracy. That is nonsense. Corporate services is one of the big areas at which they look. They say that every agency will need corporate services and that Industry Canada takes care of it for FedNor. That is not true. FedNor already has its own corporate services and communications division. If it were turned into a separate agency, creating these divisions would not be an issue. Some Conservatives will also argue against the conversion for FedNor.

We know, overall, Conservatives are not known for nation-building. They do not instinctively bring people together. They are use to wedging, getting groups apart and conquering, which is one way of doing things. I am not here to judge anybody and telling them whether it is right or wrong, but that is not the way the Liberals do it. The Conservatives do not look at the big picture. Everybody does their own thing. That is not the way to build a nation.

If the Conservatives had it their way, and we have heard the Prime Minister say it before, they would leave the economy to its own devices. In light of what we have seen over the last six months, that is not always possible and I do not think it works in the long-term. That may work in short spurts in the short-term and then we get booms, but the busts are what hurts. Government does play a role in what is done in the economy.

If we left the economy to its own devices, we would see a migration of people from regions to major centres. They would migrate to a few metropolitan areas and that would be it for Canada. Canada would be very sparsely populated in between because the concentration would be in the large cities, and we can understand that.

That is not my Canada. I do not believe most Canadians want that. They want to know they have the possibility of earning a living anywhere in Canada. This is not about being in just an urban centre. It is about being everywhere in Canada. My Canada includes northern regions and rural regions. My Canada includes all of Canada.

Since the Conservatives took office in 2006, the FedNor budget has been slashed by nearly $6 million. Bill C-309 is designed to ensure that FedNor would not be subjected to further cuts or elimination altogether.

Bill C-309 is designed to promote economic development, economic diversification and job creation in communities throughout northern Ontario. A FedNor agency would demand greater accountability and would be required to report to Parliament on a regular basis.

My Liberal colleagues and I are committed to ensuring that the residents of northern Ontario are given every opportunity to develop and maintain a strong regional economy, as well as diversify strength in their employment base. Residents of northern Ontario expect and deserve the same opportunities, the same access and accountability and the same quality of service as their fellow Canadians in all other parts of the country.

Bill C-309 has received widespread support from municipalities throughout northern Ontario, including the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities. I trust my hon. colleagues from the three parties in the House will also support the bill based on its merits.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have heard over the years innuendoes that FedNor money is being channelled to southern Ontario. Could the member enlighten me as to whether this is true? If it is true, does he know how much FedNor money is being spent in southern Ontario?

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a rumour that has been around for quite some time. There has been a rumour about money being funnelled into southern Ontario from FedNor. It is not quite true. This has been going on for a number of years.

There is the community futures program that allows for economic development on a smaller scale and allows small operators to get money. It is a loan program. That money is administered by FedNor out of Sudbury for all of Ontario. That is very important because it is not FedNor money but it is being administered from Sudbury in northern Ontario. Those are federal jobs being put into Sudbury and not centralized in Ottawa. They could have been anywhere in the world.

That is a case for regional economic development in northern Ontario. Business can be conducted from anywhere in the world with today's electronics and programs. With everything that is out there, one can have pretty well anything one wants in northern Ontario. This is a prime example of how federal services put in place by the Liberal Party are creating jobs in Sudbury for the rest of Ontario.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today to discuss northern Ontario and specifically the role of FedNor, the regional economic development organization for northern Ontario.

As the Minister of Industry told the members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, our strategy is ”if it ain't broke, don't fix it”.

Our government continues to build a healthy future for northern Ontario and for most economic growth through the delivery of FedNor's northern Ontario development program and the community futures program. It is no secret that FedNor receives broad-based and universal support from mayors, community leaders and other stakeholders in northern Ontario. The reason is simple: it works.

I will now talk about the fine work that FedNor does in northern Ontario through the northern Ontario development program, or NODP.

By hearing more about FedNor's role in northern Ontario, I hope all members will garner a better understanding of how much this organization impacts on the lives of northerners. FedNor does much more than simply fund individual projects in the many communities it serves.

When community partners, leaders and stakeholders identify opportunities for development in northern Ontario, they come to FedNor with these ideas and their proposals. FedNor staff is closely connected to the communities they serve and they know the challenges and needs of those communities.

FedNor works with project proponents to ensure how best to meet their needs. It considers the benefits of specific projects on a local, regional and pan-northern scale, working with partners to maximize the impact of FedNor projects. In short, FedNor takes a truly holistic approach to economic development, funding projects that will collectively strengthen the whole of northern Ontario.

To accomplish this, FedNor focuses on specific sectors or areas of northern Ontario's economy, keeping in mind that each project builds the capacity that is needed to undertake other worthwhile initiatives.

At the same time, FedNor delivers the Government of Canada's agenda in northern Ontario, such as our economic action plan. New initiatives, such as the community adjustment fund, will help us keep the economy of northern Ontario moving.

Canada's economic action plan will have a direct and positive impact on the economy of northern Ontario and FedNor will continue to work closely with northern Ontario communities and industry leaders to ensure that our efforts meet their specific needs.

FedNor supports northern Ontario projects that complement our government's strategy to promote a competitive, knowledge-based nation. In 2007-08, the northern Ontario development program's annual grants and contributions' budget totalled more than $36 million.

I will now illustrate how FedNor is using this budget successfully to grow the northern Ontario economy. First, I will give some background. The northern Ontario development program covers a large geographic area. Northern Ontario represents about 90% of the province's land mass. It stretches from Muskoka to James Bay and from the border of my province of Manitoba to the border of Quebec. This great part of Canada is also home to more than 850,000 people.

The vastness of northern Ontario, given its relatively low population, helps explain some of the challenges, including: geographic isolation from large, urban markets to the south; limited telecommunications and transportation infrastructure; static or declining population; high youth out-migration rates; and a lower than average employment growth. FedNor's northern Ontario development program is working to address these issues and much more.

Specifically, the northern Ontario development program promotes economic growth in northern Ontario through the delivery of contributions funding. Funding is directed primarily to not for profit organizations for projects not eligible for commercial financing and projects that are key to the development of capacity in the north. Program contributions are available to support projects in six areas: community economic development, innovation, information and communications technology, human capital, business financing support, and trade and tourism. FedNor is making a real difference in each of these areas.

In the area of community economic development, FedNor focuses its efforts on strategic planning to enhance business competitiveness and job creation. To help communities deal with the challenges of sudden or severe downturns affecting the local economy, FedNor supports diversification strategies. Never have these types of strategies been more important than they are today during these difficult economic times.

One excellent example is the northern Ontario value-added initiative, or NOVA. This three year initiative is introducing communities affected by the downturn in the forestry sector to new forestry related economic renewal opportunities. NOVA representatives have undertaken a tour of about 200 mills and secondary forestry related operations to introduce this program.

In essence, the project is supporting the development of value-added products and improvements to manufacturing processes as well as providing market access information. In addition to its diversification initiatives, FedNor also promotes regional initiatives that build strong, sustainable communities. One such initiative is the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology, or NORCAT. The Northern Centre for Advanced Technology is one of a cluster of premiere research and development organizations in northern Ontario that our government has supported through FedNor.

With FedNor's help, NORCAT has grown to become a leader in the development and commercialization of new mining technologies. In fact, in April 2008, this government invested $2 million of FedNor funding into NORCAT to construct a state of the art building to house a new incubator facility and centralize NORCAT'S technology development and industrial services. This NORCAT centre will provide the private sector with one-stop access to NORCAT's industrial training and innovation services. It will also bring to the region a new service for small businesses and pre-commercial entrepreneurs.

Once complete, the centre will accommodate up to 22 small and medium size enterprises by providing flexible rental space, access to labs and workshops, as well as business and technology support services. The positive impact of this investment in NORCAT will be felt in northern Ontario for decades to come. It is but one example of the great work FedNor has been able to accomplish under a Conservative government.

Projects like this are building the capacity that northern Ontario needs to diversify its economy. That is community economic development.

To keep moving forward, we must ensure that we have the human capital to support our efforts to build a strong northern Ontario. In that light, FedNor supports other important initiatives that provide northerners with the opportunity to remain in and contribute to their respective communities.

One concrete example is FedNor's successful youth internship program. In the summer of 2006, FedNor celebrated the placement of the program's 1,000th youth intern. Since 2002, FedNor has invested over $35.7 million in youth related projects across northern Ontario. Designed to help post-secondary graduates make the transition from the campus to the workplace, this program provides interns with hands-on experience and an opportunity to find full-time employment in the north. It also helps to stem the tide of youth leaving northern Ontario, which has long been a serious issue in northern Ontario.

We know that only 25% of young people who leave northern Ontario for education or employment opportunities ever return. FedNor is serious about providing opportunities for its best and brightest to ensure they remain and contribute to the future of northern Ontario. As an added benefit, the internship program also provides employment assistance for small businesses and not for profit organizations that are looking to grow.

It is important for the communities and businesses of northern Ontario that FedNor remains flexible and responsive as an organization to benefit the people it serves. As members will hear from my colleagues, FedNor's other areas of focus are also bearing fruit across all of northern Ontario.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

May 14th, 2009 / 5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, which was introduced by my colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming. It is not that we support federal government interference in regional development, but if the people of northern Ontario and the Government of Ontario want to create an agency, the Bloc Québécois would obviously be ill advised to oppose it.

The purpose of Bill C-309 is to establish the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario, which, like the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, would be responsible for promoting the development of northern Ontario in accordance with an integrated federal strategy.

The Bloc Québécois defends Quebec's interests, and that is why in the past we voted against Bill C-9, which created the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. Members will say that we are being inconsistent. We voted against creating an agency in Quebec, yet we support creating an agency in Ontario. I have no problem with that, because if the people in northern Ontario want to create such an agency, then naturally we will support them.

The Bloc Québécois believes, as all the governments of Quebec have believed for more than 45 years, that in order to be able to develop an integrated policy on regional development, Quebec must have control over regional development programs. I will explain this further during my speech.

As my colleague has just said, the regions are the ones with the solutions. Quebec in particular has organizations that focus on the socio-economic development of their regions. These organizations are in a position to properly advise the minister on regional needs and to help with program implementation. The local development centres were created specifically to develop the regional economy and to advise ministers in order to ensure that the investments made would be as cost effective as possible for regional development. Over the years, we have also created another kind of organization, the regional conferences of elected officials, which bring together all mayors and other elected officials in each of the regions. Obviously, they examine every file relating to regional development and they, too, are well placed to provide the minister responsible with proper advice.

The Bloc Québécois is aware that not all governments have the same priorities. Despite the fact that the agency is joyfully trampling on Quebec's toes in its jurisdiction, if the Government of Ontario has decided to welcome this structure into its regional economy, we cannot do otherwise than agree, as I said. It must be pointed out as well that Ontario has been hit very hard by the economic crisis, northern Ontario even more so because of the forestry crisis and the decline of the auto industry.

I would like to make the point that a true regional development strategy needs to include a broad range of components: natural resources, education, training, municipal affairs, land use, infrastructure and so on, none of which are in any way federal responsibilities. In fact, the Canadian Constitution entrusts most things that concern regional development to Quebec and the provinces.

In order to be in a position to create an integrated regional development policy, all of the governments of Quebec in the past 45-plus years have been demanding control of the regional development program.

Between 1973 and 1994, an agreement was in place between the Government of Quebec and the government in Ottawa. According to it, Ottawa could not invest in regional development without the agreement of the Government of Quebec. In 1994, that agreement was broken. Since that time, there have been two parallel structures in Quebec, those of the Government of Quebec and those of the federal government, which both invest in regional development.

Very often the two are in conflict with each other, because the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec sets priorities for itself that are not shared by Quebec or the regions of Quebec. This clash of regional development systems is a very common occurrence.

Another phenomenon has also cropped up since the Conservatives have been in power.

As my colleague mentioned, the government made deep cuts to the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec's budget. Those cuts were significant.

Since 1994, the agency has been investing in research and development organizations responsible for supporting businesses. I could list all kinds of organizations in every region of Quebec that were responsible for helping small and medium-sized businesses conduct research and development and bring their ideas to market.

Small and medium-sized businesses do not necessarily have the financial means to do research and create and launch new products. That is why the agency invested in those kinds of organizations. Then, suddenly, two years ago in 2007, the agency withdrew its support. That is the problem with having two parallel regional development systems. The Canadian agency withdrew, and now a lot of those organizations are in trouble. Basically, the entire structure that the Government of Quebec and the regions of Quebec built over the years has been demolished.

I can provide actual examples of that in my region. Among other things, the forest research centre, which was supported by the Canadian agency, was unexpectedly told that it would have to begin turning a profit within about two years. That was utterly impossible. That kind of development will no longer be happening. The federal government must understand that regional development cannot happen without taking into account each region's priorities and those of the Government of Quebec.

Earlier, my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue was talking about the Minister of Industry. I should point out that the Minister of Industry was responsible for the agency, and he is the one who cut funding to several organizations in Quebec. The new minister tried to restore funding, but I do not think that he tried hard enough, because instead of restoring the funding, organizations were simply given an extra year within which to become profitable. It is no secret that most research and development organizations will never be profitable because they do research and development to bring products to market. It takes years and years to turn a profit, and that is not what these organizations are meant to do. Their role is to support businesses, not replace them. That is where the government made its mistake.

Earlier, my colleague said that the Minister of Industry was very busy because there are files piled up on his desk. I would say to him that is probably the same tactic he used at the Economic Development Agency of Canada because everything ended up on his desk. Files would languish and he was accused—I believe rightly—of engaging in petty politics, cheap politics, by using the funds of the Economic Development Agency of Canada. In my opinion, the same thing is currently happening at Industry Canada. It is the same minister.

Let us be serious. He probably used the same tactics and is probably continuing to use the same approach. That means files were not dealt with, files are languishing and will continue to do so because he has to look at all of them, one by one, and he does not trust anyone, especially not the directors of agencies in Quebec and probably not Industry department officials.

I am being told that I have one minute left. Therefore I will repeat that the Bloc Québécois will support the creation of a development agency for northern Ontario because that is the decision of the people who live there and of the Ontario government, and that is important to us. Therefore, if those people want it, as a political party that respects all regions, I believe that we must vote for Bill C-309.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming, for introducing Bill C-309, An Act establishing the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Region of Northern Ontario.

I would like to thank the member for Saint Boniface for speaking for northern Ontario.

I would also like to recognize and commend the NDP member for Sault Ste. Marie for all his hard work on the development of this legislation in the past Parliament. The member for Sault Ste. Marie has been a tireless advocate for northern Ontario over the years, especially with regard to FedNor.

I would also like to congratulate the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie on all his hard work on this legislative measure during the last parliamentary session. Our hon. colleague has for some years been a staunch advocate for northern Ontario, especially in connection with FedNor.

When I was elected several months ago, I had the great privilege of having the FedNor file assigned to me within the NDP caucus.

When I was elected several months ago, I felt very privileged to be assigned the FedNor file within the NDP caucus. Throughout northern Ontario, people have been experiencing an epidemic rate of job losses over the past few years, and even more so within the past few months. Both of our main sectors, forestry and mining, have been hit hard during this recession. We have seen job losses at Xstrata, Vale Inco, AbitibiBowater, John Deere, CBC, Persona, and the list goes on and on. It is crucial for northern Ontario that we have a fully independent and appropriately resourced economic development agency.

FedNor must be able to adapt to the changing economy and ensure the economic prosperity of the workers of northern Ontario and their families. Its mandate must be drawn up at the local level by the people who live in the region, not by some faceless bureaucrat in the Ottawa offices of Industry Canada.

It is time they stopped treating the people of northern Ontario like second-class citizens. Everywhere in this country there are economic development agencies with what it takes to really encourage the local economy. There is no excuse not to have one for northern Ontario, where we face so many economic challenges.

We need a FedNor that can adapt to our changing economy and ensure economic prosperity for northern Ontario workers and their families. FedNor's mandate needs to be developed locally by the people of northern Ontario, not by some bureaucrat buried within Industry Canada stationed in Ottawa.

It is time to stop treating northern Ontarians like second-class citizens. There are economic development agencies throughout the country that have the capacity to make a real difference in the local economy. There is no excuse not to create one for northern Ontario, where we face so many economic challenges. During this recession, our economy needs to diversify and grow. Now is the time to encourage small business start-ups and expansions, and community economic development.

Because FedNor is underfunded, many worthy projects are turned down. The Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation would make northern Ontario a world leader in mining resources and development. CEMI is currently researching exploration, deep mining, integrated mine process engineering, and environmental sustainability, all areas that would greatly enhance the competitiveness of the mining sector not only in northern Ontario but throughout the country.

CEMI has received funding from the Government of Ontario, Vale Inco, Xstrata, Laurentian University, the Greater City of Sudbury, and the Ontario Mineral Industry Cluster. The private sector, provincial and municipal governments have all come to the table to support the centre. Yet, FedNor has declined CEMI's application because it does not have enough funding to meet the request. This is a slap in the face for northern Ontario.

With our mining sector suffering as it is, now is the time for the federal government to pull its weight and invest in research and innovation, so that we can be ready when the economy rebounds.

The long-term care facility at Chelmsford, St. Joseph's Health Centre, is another FedNor reject. This facility will make 128 beds available and employ 160 full- and part-time workers. Once again, the provincial and municipal governments and the community were on board with this project, but FedNor rejected its application because it did not fit into the narrow FedNor mandate.

There is a bed shortage for patients requiring a higher level of care in Sudbury and Nickel Belt, and this institution will be a great help in alleviating that problem.

As well, the area needs good permanent jobs. Nevertheless the FedNor mandate is not flexible enough to meet some of our communities' most crying needs.

A second project that was also turned down by FedNor is the St. Joseph's long-term care facility in Chelmsford. This facility will create 128 long-term care beds and employ 160 full-time and part-time workers. Again, the provincial and municipal governments, as well as the community, have come to the table to support this facility. St. Joseph's application was turned down by FedNor because it does not meet the narrow mandate.

There is an alternative care bed shortage in Sudbury and Nickel Belt. This facility would go a long way in alleviating this crisis. There is also a need for good jobs and permanent employment. Despite this, FedNor's mandate is not flexible enough to meet some of our community's most pressing needs.

Meanwhile, projects throughout southern Ontario are receiving funding through programs administered by FedNor, while the people of northern Ontario are being left behind. Northern Ontario is a socially, geologically, ecologically and economically distinct region situated on the boreal forest of the Canadian Shield. It is home to 102 of the 134 first nations in Ontario, 43% of Ontario's aboriginal population and 27% of Ontario's francophone population. It is a treasure house of natural resources, lands and waters, provincial parks, fisheries and natural wilderness areas. If it were a province, only British Columbia and Quebec would be larger.

Northern Ontario clearly faces unique challenges, but also great opportunities. Our region deserves its own regional economic development agency.

I am urging all members of this House to support this bill through its second reading. The people of northern Ontario have been ignored by the government for far too long. With the passage of this legislation, FedNor would be able to take its rightful place as an independent, fully funded economic development agency. I think it is broke, so let us fix it.