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.