propose que le projet de loi C-28, An Act to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise today to begin the debate at second reading of Bill C-28, An Act to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act.
The amendments to Bill C-28 hold important consequences for our country, for the province of Quebec, and most significantly for the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, the people of the eastern James Bay and southern Hudson Bay region of northern Quebec.
Bill C-28 helps settle long-standing differences between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, resolving disputes. Perhaps most importantly, the bill sets the stage for a revitalized relationship between the federal government and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee.
I will explain the provisions of this legislation and provide some detail of how Bill C-28 will encourage greater prosperity, social development and self-determination for the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. First, let me take this opportunity to tell the House a little about these people and how we have moved forward to this important step here today.
On February 21 of last year, I was in Mistissini, Quebec to sign the new relationship agreement with the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. Mistissini is located about 850 kilometres due north of here, in some of the most breathtakingly beautiful natural surroundings anywhere in the world.
Mistissini is one of nine Cree communities in northern Quebec. Some 30 years ago, residents of these communities expressed their deep disagreement with plans by the Government of Quebec to build and expand hydroelectric developments on their traditional lands.
The Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the Inuit of Nunavik thought this project, one of the most ambitious civil works projects ever considered in Canada, threatened their traditional way of life. To address the concerns expressed by the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the Inuit of Nunavik, the Quebec and Canadian governments entered into negotiations with those peoples.
The result of these negotiations was the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement. Signed in 1975, the agreement is the first modern treaty reached in Canada, resolving land claims that date back to the late 1800s. It also accommodated the interests of the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the Inuit of Nunavik on the development of natural resources on their traditional lands. In 1978, the Naskapi people of the region reached a similar accord, the northeastern Quebec agreement.
Together, these two agreements facilitated development of hydroelectric dams and related infrastructure in northern Quebec and ushered in an era of unprecedented economic development, not just in the James Bay region but throughout northern Quebec. At the same time, the agreements established new governance regimes to manage the delivery of social services to Cree communities in the region and administer the growing relationship between Cree authorities and provincial and federal governments.
There was one problem, though. These agreements were struck without the benefit of a coherent policy backdrop, such as the comprehensive claims policy and the inherent right policy, which we have today, and without detailed implementation plans, essential components of the claims process that negotiators, policy-makers and legislators rely on today.
Because the agreements lacked the precision we now expect from such accords, challenges arose. The parties to the agreements, the federal government, the provincial government, the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, the Inuit of Nunavik and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach encountered substantial difficulties interpreting and then acting upon obligations outlined in the agreements.
In 1984, the Government of Canada adopted the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act. The act is the first piece of self-government legislation adopted in our country. It was an obligation under the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement and under the northeastern Quebec agreement. The landmark law set up a system of land management and recognized the authority of local Cree and Naskapi governments to make bylaws to protect the environment, manage natural resources and provide health services to band members. Provisions of the act also enabled the federal government to further address the needs of the Cree Eeyou Istchee and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach through government programs, sectoral funding agreements and joint action with the government of Quebec.
Despite these constructive efforts, the Government of Canada continued to bear the brunt of criticism for its alleged failure to implement its obligations under the James Bay and northern Quebec agreement and the northeastern Quebec agreement in an adequate and timely manner.
However, in 2002, a new dawn began to break in the relationship between the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the provincial and federal governments. In February of that year, the Cree of Eeyou Istchee and the government of Quebec signed the “Paix des braves”. Under the terms of this agreement the Cree of Eeyou Istchee agreed to assume major provincial obligations with regard to socio-economic development and community infrastructure in Cree communities.
In exchange, the government of Quebec made three commitments: first, to pay $3.5 billion over 50 years to a new Cree development corporation; second, to provide ongoing funding for Cree health, policing and justice regimes; and third, to share with Cree communities the revenues and contracting and employment opportunities generated by natural resources development on traditional Cree lands.
Cree leaders then approached the Government of Canada and proposed a similar arrangement to resolve their outstanding differences. After close to six years of rigorous study, consultation, negotiation and ratification, we signed the agreement concerning a new relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, a landmark accord that does what its title suggests; it establishes a new relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee.
I was deeply honoured to participate in that signing ceremony in Mistissini in February 2008. I was proud to join hundreds of residents and more than a dozen current and former elected leaders of the region's nine Cree communities to celebrate the beginning of a revitalized relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee.
Today, more than a year after that memorable event, we are gathered here in this House to consider Bill C-28 and enshrine in Canadian law a crucial part of the new relationship agreement between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. But what is in that agreement, and by extension, in the bill?
With regard to its second goal, funding and ongoing financing, the new relationship agreement calls for the federal government to provide $1.4 billion in compensation to the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. This funding is divided into three parcels. The first portion is a cash payment of $1.1 billion. These funds have been transferred when the agreement was signed and put an end to significant lawsuits initiated by the Cree of Eeyou Istchee against the federal government.
The federal government will provide the Cree Regional Authority with an additional $100 million within 30 days of Bill C-28, this bill, receiving royal assent. A third payment of $200 million will be made within 30 days of royal assent being given to a future bill that sanctions a distinctive Cree Nation government.
Equipped with this new funding and ongoing financing, the Cree of Eeyou Istchee are poised to take on a number of essential regional functions, including policing, sanitation, firefighting services and several vital economic development initiatives such as job training, recruitment and placement.
This is where Bill C-28 comes in. The Cree Regional Authority must be granted the legal authority to carry out these functions. Accordingly, Bill C-28 amends the Cree-Naskapi of Quebec Act to provide the Cree Regional Authority with by-law making powers, similar to those now enjoyed by the eight local Cree governments.
As its name suggests, the Cree Regional Authority is the governing body that regulates affairs throughout the entire region, and Bill C-28 provides the Cree Regional Authority with powers that truly correspond with its title. The bill also incorporates a ninth Cree band, the Oujé-Bougoumou, and brings it under the jurisdiction of this regional governing body.
These forward-thinking provisions dovetail perfectly with the third goal of the new relationship agreement, modernization of Cree governance. Upon passage of Bill C-28, the agreement pledges the Government of Canada to work with the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, to continue to transform their current governance regime. This modernization process will involve development of a Cree constitution and establishment of a Cree Nation government.
Indeed, Bill C-28 serves as a stepping stone for the Cree of Eeyou Istchee as they continue their journey toward genuine, full-fledged self-government. Through the agreements they have concluded with the governments of Canada and Quebec, they have shown their willingness to take greater control of their lives, establish high quality social services in their communities, safeguard their culture and chart a clear, self-sufficient course for their future. In doing so, the Cree of Eeyou Istchee have earned the respect and admiration of all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike.
At the same time, the names of distinguished Cree leaders have earned an honoured place in the history of our country. Grand Chief Billy Diamond signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement and then used the agreement as a springboard to launch his people along the road to greater economic prosperity, social development and cultural preservation.
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come fought to ensure that his people were assured a fair share of the wealth generated by the natural resources found on Cree lands.
Grand Chief Ted Moses helped develop and then sign La Paix des Braves with the government of Quebec, and was a powerful force in enabling his people to gain formal recognition as a consultative, non-government organization at the United Nations.
Now, as a signatory of the agreement, current Grand Chief Matthew Mukash takes his rightful place alongside these great Canadian leaders. I salute Grand Chief Mukash for his inspired leadership in shepherding the agreement through to ratification, and thank him for the enormous contribution he has made, not only to the life of his community but also to the prosperity and vitality of our country.
I also take this opportunity to salute Bill Namagoose, the chief negotiator of the Grand Council of the Crees, and Raymond Chrétien, the chief negotiator for the Government of Canada. These wise, skilful and patient men played indispensable roles in helping us strike an agreement and forge this new relationship. Simply put, without their diligent effort, firm commitment and determined leadership, an agreement would not have been reached and Bill C-28 would not be before us here today.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the indispensable role played by the Cree of Eeyou Istchee themselves. During a referendum held to cast judgment on the agreement, they voted overwhelming in favour, some 90% of all ballots cast, and in doing so, expressed their deep faith in the value of and their firm desire to establish a revitalized relationship with the Government of Canada.
In the same spirit of optimism, partnership and trust clearly demonstrated by the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, I ask my colleagues to do their part.
I encourage my colleagues to adopt Bill C-28 and enshrine in the law of our land a vital element of the new relationship agreement. I encourage all members to play their part in revitalizing the relationship between the Government of Canada and the Eeyou Istchee, to play their part in helping usher in a new era in that people's distinguished history, an era of greater prosperity, self-determination, fulfillment and harmony for us all.