Mr. Speaker, today we are debating Bill C-8, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves.
The summary of the bill reads:
This enactment provides for the adoption of First Nation laws and the establishment of provisional rules and procedures that apply during a conjugal relationship, when that relationship breaks down or on the death of a spouse or common-law partner, respecting the use, occupation and possession of family homes on First Nation reserves and the division of the value of any interests or rights held by spouses or common-law partners in or to structures and lands on those reserves.
Members are probably aware that I do not have any reserves in my riding so I will take a moment to explain why I am speaking to this and how I came to take an interest in the bill. It really started in the last Parliament with a former colleague, Tina Keeper, who is from the north and who had done a lot of work on this issue. There was a bill, Bill C-47, before the House that she expressed a lot of concern about. I met with her not too long ago and she was very adamant that she wanted to continue to be involved and that she would help in any way she could to ensure that any legislation that comes forward on matrimonial real property will be appropriate legislation that is fairly reflective of the aboriginal rights to self-determination and self-government.
About four weeks ago, when we had the last parliamentary break, the Ontario caucus of my party extended an invitation to groups to speak to us about the issues that were important to them. It was an outreach event. One of the groups that came before us was led by Mr. Richard C. Powless who is a consultant for first nations. Mr. Powless and his colleagues from the Six Nations came to talk about Bill C-8. After they were finished their brief presentation, there was some silence. I was not sure why because, to me, their presentation was very serious. The presentation basically said that there was no support whatsoever for this bill in the first nations across Canada but it is going forward, which is a travesty. Some of their reasons were laid out.
I decided to speak up and ask a couple of questions. The next thing I knew, Mr. Powless had agreed to send me many more details about the bill than he could possibly talk about in the brief time that he had to deal with us. He did send the material and it was terrific. It went virtually clause-by-clause down the bill and laid out some of the problems. I could, with the unanimous consent of the House, spend about two hours going through each of those but I do not think it is necessary. I will circulate it to members. It is important if they have not seen it already.
Subsequent to that, Mr. Powless, as we were corresponding, asked me whether or not he could meet with additional representatives and we did that a week or so ago. At this meeting, in addition to Mr. Powless, were: Lawané:Wan Clinton M. Cornelius, Oneida Nation of the Thames Council; Julie Phillips-Jacobs, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne; Mr. Carl Hill, Six Nations Council; and Ava Hill, Six Nations Council.
We spent some time reviewing the representations that Mr. Powless had made to our caucus and I was presented with some additional materials that laid out the concerns that they had with the bill.
Then we talked about strategy. It was pretty clear that Bill C-8 was identical to Bill C-47 in the last Parliament. There really has not been any evolution with regard to the policy or the proposed legislation.
Because Bill C-8 had been delayed down the order paper and did not come forward as expeditiously as it should, that was an indication the government did not really have its heart behind it, that it knew there were problems and it did not want to have to face this.
Strategically, some things could be done. The AFN and the National Women's Aboriginal Council, representing all aboriginals across the country, could write the minister to let him know there was no support among aboriginal communities for this bill, for substantive reasons. They could ask the government to withdraw the bill and have the appropriate consultations and discussions on all the points identified as being flawed, flawed to the point that the bill could not even be repaired at committee. That was their view.
Yesterday, the member for Toronto Centre gave an eloquent speech about how important it was for legislation not fly in the face of the stakeholders affected by it. The stakeholders have to be consulted. They have to understand why it is necessary. The Government of Canada was basically imposing legislation on stakeholders, in this case the first nations of Canada, which would have an enormous impact on them and also seriously contradict a lot of the things it had earlier. There were big problems with the bill. This was two irreconcilable forces. It was not going to happen. The whole idea is we cannot force the bill through. It will not work because it is not reparable.
Some members have suggested we could send it to committee and fix it there. We have to listen to what the AFN had to say. We do not have to go to committee, have witnesses and try to identify what the problems are. It has already provided a paper, which I will give it to any member who wants it. Page by page, issue by issue, it is an extraordinary work. We cannot ignore that work. That should have been known and reviewed by the government prior to Bill C-8 being called at second reading. If the government would recognize that it is a fundamentally flawed bill and that it does not have a hope of passing, it would be in the best interests of the AFN, of Canada's aboriginal communities, to withdraw the bill, or defeat it, or hoist the bill, do anything to stop this flawed processed because it will not work. That is what should happen, but it has not. The government is insistent.
Let me quote from the minister's speech from Monday. Members will recall that we had a concurrence motion after question period, which took up most of the afternoon, so we did not get around to this until about 6:15 p.m., 15 minutes before the House was to adjourn for the day. The minister got up to speak to Bill C-8. I was astounded at what he said. The minister described a process in a bill, which is not the process I know. One of his statements was:
—the bill was developed after exhaustive study, authoritative research and comprehensive consultation with first nations groups.
Bill C-8 was not developed after exhaustive study because it bill is the same bill that we had in the last Parliament, Bill C-47. There may have been consultations on Bill C-47, but not on this bill.
As for authoritative research, there was no additional research. There was no additional work done on this. As for comprehensive consultation, there were consultations. I know the parliamentary secretary has boasted about having hundreds of meetings. There is a difference between having consultations and listening to the consultations.
In fact, members will know that the government's own consultant on the bill had many recommendations and 85% of them were rejected by the government. It has to tell us something. If 85% of the recommendations of its consultant are rejected by the government, if no first nations groups in the country support the bill and if all three opposition parties are telling the government that the bill must be defeated somehow at some stage, why is the government being so closed-minded to the realities?
I want to thank Mr. Richard Powless who raised this issue with the Ontario Liberal caucus in the hopes that we would be able to do something. I am not sure if we will be able to do enough to make the right things happen. We know we need a bill, but we need the right bill that is based on proper consultations and due respect for the laws of Canada. It is very important.
I have the resolution for Bill C-47, signed by Phil Fontaine, National Chief. It is quite long. It states:
The Ministerial Representative on Matrimonial Real Property submitted a report on March 9, 2007 and included important considerations and recommendations regarding consultation and First Nation jurisdiction;
In spite of the views of First Nations and many of the recommendations of its own Ministerial Representative, the Government drafted and introduced Bill C-47 on March 4, 2008;
I referred to this in the House. The consultant of the government made recommendations and they were ignored.
It also goes on to state:
Bill C-47 contains clauses that provide the Federal Government with control over the First Nation law making process through a “verification officer” and is therefore fundamentally inconsistent with the First Nation inherent right to self government.
I cannot think of anything more fundamental in legislation.
Let me refer to a couple of the resolutions:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that:
Chiefs-in-Assembly reject Bill C-47 and the approach taken by the Federal government as it did not fulfill the duty of the Crown to consult and to accommodate the views and interests of First Nations.
Therefore, it also rejects Bill C-8 because it is the same bill:
It goes on to say that:
Chiefs-in-Assembly demand that the Federal Government withdraw Bill C-47 and provide First Nations with resources to properly develop and implement a meaningful process that respects First Nation jurisdiction and existing First Nation processes addressing MRP.
This resolution, passed by the AFN and signed by Chief Phil Fontaine, was dated July 17, 2008. This is not new to the government.
Notwithstanding the clear statements by the AFN and the Native Women's Council, the government ignored them. In fact, the minister himself gave a 15-minute speech. The clock ran out and the minister did not come back to the House to finish his speech or to allow members to ask questions. That is significant.
I want to close the last part of my speech. Yesterday, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the AFN Women's Council, and the Assembly of First Nations published a joint release dated May 14, yesterday. This is a joint communiqué, and we have to take this into account very seriously.
Today the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the AFN Women's Council united to express their opposition to the federal Bill C-8, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves.
It goes on to say:
[We] all agree that Bill C-8 will do nothing to resolve or to solve the problems associated with Matrimonial Real Property (MPR) on-reserve; that the federal government failed in its duty to consult and accommodate the views of First Nations; and, as a result, the Bill is fatally flawed and cannot be fixed. It should not proceed to committee.
This goes on substantively. I would be happy to provide this to any hon. members who would like to have it. I think it is important. It is clear, concise, and correct.
As the hon. member for Toronto Centre said yesterday, how can the federal government bring forward legislation that does not respect the views and the interests of the stakeholders that will be impacted?
We cannot have this butting of heads. It has to be a respectful process. It has to be a process that acknowledges and respects the laws of Canada as they relate to aboriginals. It has to be a process with an understanding that, yes, we need a bill and the sooner we get the bill, the better. However, it has to be a good bill. Time is being wasted.
If we send the bill to committee, all we will do is have weeks of witnesses, weeks of questions on items, when in fact the work has been done already. It shows time and time again that consultations have not taken place. Where there have been recommendations from the government's consultant, the vast majority, over 85%, of them were rejected.
It is an insult to first nations, Canadians and Parliament to suggest somehow that there has been significant consultation. First nations, and in particular the Native Women's Association of Canada, which speaks for women's groups, and the women's council, which also represents women's issues through the full council of the AFN, should be taken into account. The stakeholders, those affected by the legislation, need to believe and feel they have been consulted. They need to believe their concerns and views have been respected.
When there is a rejection of any of those suggestions, the right thing to do is explain it in true, full and plain fashion. That has not happened.
For all of those reasons, my recommendation to the House is to pass the current hoist motion before us, which suggests the bill has to stop now. We need to start the process to get the right bill so we can work here and pass legislation in the best interests of first nations in Canada.