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House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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 LaSalle—Émard, the Conservative Government; the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, the Canadian Council on Learning; the hon. member for Yukon, the Food Mail Program.

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, refugee laws have the ability to define a nation and sometimes it is not obvious until decades later.

Had the former prime minister of Canada, Mackenzie King, eased up on the refugee laws at the time, several hundred thousand Jews might have been saved from the Nazis.

Hiding behind the argument of the national self-interest of Canada, then immigration minister Thomas Crerar, with his official Fred Blair, barred Jews from entering Canada. Mr. Blair said it was “for the reason that coming out of the maelstrom of war, some of them are liable to go on the rocks”--he was talking about refugees--“and when they become public charges, we have to keep them for the balance of their lives”.

Between 1933 and 1945 the United States under Roosevelt accepted 200,000 Jewish refugees. England accepted 70,000. Bolivia, a relatively poor country, accepted 14,000. Sadly and shamefully, Canada, a rich and vast country, accepted only 5,000 Jewish refugees.

Even the young Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in an election rally in November 1942, stated that he feared “the peaceful invasion of immigrants more than the armed invasion of the enemy”, an obvious reference to Jews.

It was only when the Jewish community through the People's Committee Against Anti-Semitism protest action that Canada began to ease its refugee policies. The people's committee sent a delegation to Ottawa representing 10,000 Canadian Jews and met with minister Crerar. Because of the huge and sustained outcry, finally in 1944, 450 Jewish refugees were allowed into Canada.

By 1945, the 972 very highly skilled, professional male refugees who had been in jail since 1940 were finally released from jail and became a professional pool of musicians, teachers, artists, writers, theologians and scientists.

Why do I bring up the history? Because establishing a fair and humane refugee policy is very difficult. Oftentimes doing the right thing is not necessarily the most popular thing to do and any mistakes made can result in beatings, torture, jail, and sometimes death.

There is an important lesson to be learned from that dark chapter of our history. We have to work with the people who are most affected, people who work with refugees, and then the government laws and policy will be perfected.

Today, in these difficult times, many refugees have to leave their countries because they suffer persecution. Last year, 43.3 million people faced persecution because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. They were forcibly displaced worldwide. This is the highest number of people uprooted by conflict and persecution since the mid-1990s and represents more than our country's population. If Canada makes a mistake and we end up turning away some of these people, it could be a matter of life and death.

That is why we must learn from that dark history and provide fast and safe entry for genuine refugee claimants and turn away those who are trying to exploit Canada's system.

New Democrats have always supported the creation of a fast, fair and effective refugee system. When this bill was first presented, we said we feared that no country is truly free from any form of persecution, whether it is hate crimes directed toward gays and lesbians, and transsexual people, or a woman fleeing domestic violence, genital mutilation, or an honour killing. Those countries may be democratic but they are not safe.

We are very pleased that people from those countries will now have the same rights of appeal. They will have the rights for humanitarian and compassionate consideration and the right to counsel.

That is why we are extremely glad that we are fast-tracking Bill C-11. We are compressing the timeline for report stage and third reading into one afternoon to give the bill fast passage so that the bill can become law, hopefully by the end of this month, or maybe even before the end of this month.

Allowing people to have humanitarian and compassionate consideration is critically important. Sometimes refugees may not know whether they belong in the refugee stream or the humanitarian stream. This is now built in and it is protected.

There are also extremely important regulations coming with the bill. We look forward to seeing them come into force. We are looking forward to the hiring of close to 100 refugee protection officers to clear the backlog. I believe there are over 60,000 claimants who have been waiting in limbo for close to four years for a decision. The Canada Border Services Agency's computer system will be upgraded. Those who are ordered to leave the country will be tracked by CBSA so they could be asked to leave Canada without Canada losing track of them.

New Democrats presented over 20 recommendations during the discussion at the citizenship and immigration committee. We would have preferred to see some other changes. For example, in the beginning we were quite uncomfortable with the interview process because the personal interview forms would no longer be used. We were worried about the cost of the humanitarian and compassionate application fees of over $500. We were worried that new information may not be able to be submitted to the refugee appeal division.

We were also worried that if countries had a last minute change and if refugees were deported to those countries, without the pre-removal assessment review, the refugees could face real problems when they returned home.

We also wanted all the clauses to come into force at the same time and that there be a built-in evaluation process. However, in the spirit of working together and of making compromises to make a better bill, I withdrew my recommendations in support of the humanitarian and compassionate grounds consideration, and allowing appeals for all refugee claimants and making sure that all claimants have a right to counsel. Those are things that we believe are extremely important.

Did we get everything that we wanted? No, however, it is a bill that is far more balanced. We believe when it becomes law, it will be worthy of celebration because at long last we will see the implementation of the refugee appeal division.

I want to thank people for the hundreds and hundreds of submissions that we received at committee. People took the time to write about the kind of changes they wanted to see. We heard from refugees themselves. It was extremely brave for them to describe their experiences and how happy and safe they feel now that they are in Canada.

We also heard from passionate refugee advocates who described their work with refugees and urged the committee members to we pass a bill that was balanced, fair and fast. They organized public meetings in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and many other parts of Canada and allowed people to speak out.

Our committee could not travel because we did not have the time, but we were able to hear from quite a large number of people through the Internet and video conferencing. Because of their wisdom, their persistence and their insistence that democracy means calling their member of Parliament when a bill needs to be improved, they did call us. I understand that a lot of members of Parliament received submissions, calls and visitations from people who have worked with refugees or refugees themselves.

That, in itself, was extremely precious because at the end of the day, when we come together collectively, whether we are refugees, refugee advocates, immigrants, organizations, members of Parliament, critics, the minister and his staff or public officials, the key component is that we must listen to each other and work together because we do want, collectively, the same thing, which is a fair and fast refugee determination process.

I hope that passing this law will mean that we will not repeat the tragic past of many years ago when we saw 907 refugees on board the St. Louis being sent away which resulted in half of them perishing. That is a lesson that we need to remind ourselves of over and over again as we talk about refugees and immigration issues because we do not want that terrible history to repeat itself. Canada is really a safe haven for many people seeking to make their homes in Canada and today, because we are passing a balanced, fair and fast refugee process, we have a lot to celebrate together.

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Trinity—Spadina for her diligence and good faith. I know that for a member of the NDP to work constructively with a minister in the dastardly Conservative government is an occupational hazard, so the fact that she was willing to put ideology and her own party's politics to the side to get something positive done for refugees and Canadians is to her great credit.

I thank her for reminding us about the era of officially sanctioned anti-Semitism that barred access to Canada for European Jewish refugees before and during the second world war. That history is detailed in the devastating book None Is Too Many: Canada And The Jews Of Europe 1933-1948, which I actually reread over Christmastime, and it struck me deeply with a moral responsibility. It really caused me to think through many of these issues, that while we must be a place of refuge for those in need of our protection, we also need to maintain a legal system, and I think we have struck that balance.

Speaking of balance, it is important in these issues that we have balanced public discourse. I just want to raise something with the member for her comment.

One of the public meetings she talked about was in Toronto a couple of months ago at which a representative of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Francisco Rico-Martinez, said that I was the worst anti-immigrant minister ever and essentially called me a racist. This past weekend I was at a community event for the Filipino community in Vancouver where members of an anarchist organization called No One is Illegal, apparently good friends of the NDP House leader, as she seemed to be very familiar with them, were screaming at me at a family event that I was a racist and a bigot.

We may have differences of opinion across the political spectrum on some of these issues but I would like to give the member an opportunity to agree with me perhaps that certain kinds of charges and certain kinds of rhetoric are actually terribly counterproductive and go beyond the pale of what constitutes civil discourse on these issues.

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, we could mire ourselves in hate and fear or we could rise above it: name-calling of any kind, calling people anti-Semite, hateful, bigot or racist.

It is easy to throw names around, to put people into straitjackets, to provide them with a label and then move on, but what does that accomplish? It does not raise any hope and no action comes out of it. It is just a blame game.

We can ask ourselves why we are members of Parliament. We have different points of view and different ideologies but at the end of day we are here to work together to make laws that are fair and good for every Canadian and for those who want to become Canadians.

If we persist in that kind of negative behaviour, we will repeat what I saw in the House of Commons during question period when no intelligent answers were given. It was just a lot of hateful name-calling. Or, we could work together at committees or on the side to ensure that the laws we pass are fair and balanced.

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina did significant work in committee on the process that led to Bill C-11 being adopted. Certain themes are very dear to her. She was instrumental in helping me convince other committee members of the importance of an appeal division for everyone. She even put a bit of pressure on our Liberal friends to ensure that they support our position. She was also quite concerned about the issue of allowing permanent residence applications on humanitarian grounds for refugee status claimants.

Could the hon. member explain to this House the importance of this mechanism as a safety net for those who do not exactly fit into the definition of refugee status?

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is an area that sometimes has a fine line. We want to establish laws that would not encourage unscrupulous, crooked consultants to exploit the law by bringing in large numbers of claimants who are not really refugees or who face no human terror on compassionate grounds to stay in Canada.

We also want to ensure that people can present their case, including those people who have been tortured, have suffered domestic violence or have been raped. Sometimes it takes a while for people to describe their experiences and sometimes they may end up hiring a person to coach them who gives them the wrong information. Then, through no fault of their own, they end up messing up their case even though at the end of the day they do have a very genuine case.

There is a fine balance as to how important it is that people are given a chance to present the human terror on compassionate ground consideration.

I want to thank the minister for working with all of us and accepting these kinds of amendments which, initially, were not part of the bill. I am very thankful that what we have today allows refugees to have a fair hearing.

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand today to recognize the minister, the NDP critic and the members of the opposition parties, the Bloc and the Liberals, for accomplishing something very substantial in a minority government.

I want to quote from an article in the Canadian Encyclopedia for the year 2000 regarding comments on the previous Liberal minority government of Pearson just to show what a minority government can accomplish. It reads as follows:

For all its superficial chaos--

Does that sound familiar?

-- the Pearson government left behind a notable legacy of legislation: a Canada Pension Plan, a universal medicare system, a unified armed force, a new flag and a revised transport Act.

I could read another quote but I will not. The fact is that minority government accomplished much more in that period than many majority governments. I hope this will be a new beginning in terms of working in a minority situation to get things done.

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, yes, it is a new beginning and I look forward to the next bill, which deals with crooked consultants, something for which I have been pushing. I am sure the immigration committee will again work with the minister to bring that bill back to the House of Commons. Then maybe we can get unanimous consent on the crooked consultants bill and crack down on them.

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Balanced Refugee Reform ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

First Nations Certainty of Land Title actGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

First Nations Certainty of Land Title actGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, if there is a single defining feature of our government's approach to aboriginal issues, it is our determination to make a measurable and lasting difference in the lives and livelihoods of Canada's aboriginal people. Bill C-24, the first nations certainty of land title act, provides firm evidence of the government's progress in delivering results.

I thank the members of the House for endorsing speedy passage of Bill C-24. Like me, they recognize that the bill will benefit first nations interested in pursuing commercial real estate development projects on reserve and particularly the Squamish Nation in British Columbia, which is awaiting passage of the bill.

When we launched the new federal framework for aboriginal economic development last June, I noted that it represented a fundamental change in the federal government's approach to aboriginal economic development. It reflects significant, real and growing opportunities for aboriginal people to become full participants in the mainstream Canadian economy as entrepreneurs, employers and employees and it underscores our government's commitment to provide the tools, resources and support they need to maximize this potential.

It also means finding creative ways to get around the Indian Act, the source of many of these problems, in order to unleash the untapped economic potential of countless first nations.

There are several pieces of legislation currently in place that enable communities to achieve their economic development goals. These include the First Nations Land Management Act, the First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act, the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act and the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act. This is the legislation we are now amending with Bill C-24.

The First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act grants authority for the federal government to make regulations at the request of a first nation. The act provides for the establishment of project-specific regulatory regimes to allow major first nation economic development projects to proceed. It enables the federal government to replicate the necessary provincial laws and regulations to allow communities to pursue complex, large-scale commercial and industrial development projects on reserve land, projects which would not otherwise be possible.

The First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act was developed with the active engagement of the Squamish Nation of British Columbia, Fort McKay First Nation and Tsuu T'ina Nation of Alberta, Carry the Kettle First Nation of Saskatchewan and Fort William First Nation of Ontario. All of these communities recognize the need for this legislation to help them capitalize on the economic prospects for their lands and resources to generate employment and increase prosperity for their citizens.

First nations are keen to pursue major commercial and industrial projects on reserve lands. However, all too often, such projects are delayed or put at risk due to regulatory gaps. That is because some provincial laws dealing with commercial and industrial activities do not apply to reserves. That is precisely the situation currently facing Squamish Nation as it attempts to undertake a major commercial real estate development project on its land, something not anticipated in drafting the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act that Parliament unanimously passed in 2005.

While the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act is starting to reach its potential, the proposed first nations certainty of land title act would further enhance economic development opportunities for first nations. The Kamloops and Musqueam First Nations in British Columbia, Tsuu T'ina in Alberta and Carry the Kettle in Saskatchewan are monitoring the progress of this legislation with interest.

Bill C-24 is designed to make sure any and all interested communities can take advantage of commercial real estate development opportunities. The bill would add new authorities that would enable some first nations to become major players in the commercial real estate development.

If adopted, it will permit the federal government to replicate provincial land titles or registry systems for commercial real estate projects on reserve, which will create a seamless property rights regime on and off reserve. Whether applying common or civil law, the first nations certainty of land title act would create parity on and off reserve lands when it comes to commercial real estate development, fostering economic development. This, in turn, would encourage self-governance and economic sustainability by providing first nation governments with the financial means to determine their own future.

Equally important, the bill would also build bridges between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities.

The Squamish Nation commercial real estate development proposal would clearly enable new partnerships with the private sector. The first nation's business partner, Larco Investments Ltd., is committed to this initiative and has already invested approximately $1 million in the project planning and proposals.

I am proud to stand behind the first nations certainty of land title act, and I am pleased to hear my colleagues in the House will also give it their full endorsement.

First Nations Certainty of Land Title actGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I, too, am pleased to rise in the House to support Bill C-24, An Act to amend the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act and another Act in consequence thereof.

The identical bill was first tabled in the fall and all parties received representation from the Squamish Nation at that time encouraging us to pass the legislation. Unfortunately, due to prorogation, the bill was delayed for some months and reintroduced this spring.

I take this opportunity to thank my colleague, the member for Yukon, who visited with the Squamish people and the leadership of the Squamish Nation and had an opportunity to be personally taken around the reserve, the traditional territory of the Squamish people, to get a briefing in detail on what they intended to do with the tools that the bill would provide.

Therefore, I thank the member for the work he has done and in encouraging the minister to move forward with this bill. The member for Yukon is a wonderful member and we thank him for his work and advocacy on behalf of first nations across the country. As well, I join with him in the fine work that he has undertaken.

The main purpose of the bill is to create a more level playing field off and on reserve to foster sustainable economic development opportunities. As I said earlier, it is an amendment to the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act, which was first passed in 2005.

Since that time people have realized that there was a need to fill some of the gaps that exist. First nations that were planning large scale and/or complex development projects were hindered by a lack of adequate regulations for commercial and industrial development. This caused jurisdiction uncertainty for both first nations and industry proponents.

This legislation was developed to address the regulatory gap that existed between lands on reserve and off reserve. The legislation would enable the federal government to replicate the necessary provincial acts and regulations to allow first nations to move ahead with large scale complex commercial and industrial development projects on reserve.

The key component of the bill is the legislation is optional. It is triggered only at the request of a first nation. Regulations developed under the act apply only to a specific project and parcel of reserve land where there are gaps between federal and provincial regulations.

In a brief that was provided to me and in conversation with the Squamish leadership members, they outlined what they felt were some of the benefits for first nations. I will refer to those comments for the record.

They said that it would provide a regulatory tool to more effectively balance economic development and protection of reserve lands and resources for future generations. They indicated it would enable communities to compete for investment opportunities and develop their economies, increase economic self-sufficiency and enhance their quality of life. They went on to say that it would generate revenue that could fund land acquisition and infrastructure for member housing, employment and business opportunities.

As well, they articulated a number of benefits to the federal government in that it would help the federal government to meet its commitments to first nations regarding economic development and continued stewardship for reserve land. It would increase employment, wages, revenue tax base, infrastructure and overall economic output, which is essential to linking domestic markets to world markets, and that it would be a model for other first nations.

As well, they articulated benefits to provinces one of which would be increased economic activity in the region, direct and indirect employment and increased provincial tax revenues from businesses and individuals and benefits to industry. There would be the establishment of regulatory regimes that would be certain, transparent, familiar and well understood to the marketplace.

In short, although there is ongoing debate among first nations about land tenure, the nature of land, the title of land, the one security that this legislation provides is it is optional. They have the ability to opt in if they so choose, depending on the particular circumstances of the reserve.

Having said that, one would hope that in the future legislation will come to us with more time to debate it in a more fulsome manner, as well as with an opportunity to take it before committee.

Given the compressed timeframe, the fact that we had a prorogation which has shortened this particular sitting of the House and the amount of business we could get done, and given that first nations themselves have requested this type of legislation, we are happy to stand in the House and pass it with that particular caveat.

First Nations Certainty of Land Title actGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, people will have seen all sides of me today. After discussing two justice bills in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I am now speaking as the Bloc Québécois critic for Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

I am going to talk about Bill C-24, which we think has great merit. The Bloc will agree to the government's request and support this bill without hesitation.

A few months ago, and I say this with all due respect for my colleagues in the party in power, if the government had not prorogued the House, all parties were in agreement to deal with this bill, which was originally called Bill C-63, as quickly as possible.

I will provide an explanation for the people listening to us. The Indians are always being accused of wanting more money, of wanting nothing but money. People say they do not do anything, they want money, they never have enough, they live on social assistance. In the matter before us, we have put the lie to those words. Bill C-24 is extremely important for the Squamish First Nations in British Columbia.

These communities live in the Vancouver region. It is important to note that it was the Squamish nations that hosted the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. We say "Vancouver", but in fact the games were held on the Squamish nations' ancestral land, land that they are claiming and in respect of which an agreement will be made. Bill C-24 will open the door for those lands to be used.

In fact, they are not lands, they are lots. Imagine land in downtown Vancouver being part of their aboriginal land. The aboriginal people cannot use those lands because they are worth less than if they were located outside a reserve. I know this gets extremely complex, but this bill is going to enable the Squamish nations to move forward.

The Bloc had questions. In Quebec, we have the Civil Code, which is different from the common law of anglophones in the other provinces. We wondered how the Civil Code was going to apply in Quebec in connection with this bill. We got answers.

That is why we consulted the first nations of Quebec and Labrador, who asked us to support the bill because it could be to their benefit.

I have two examples. The Essipit nation, one of the Innu nations in the village of Essipit, near Les Escoumins, wants to develop land and build condos with an unobstructed view of the river. With this bill, they will be able to do so and, little by little, they will no longer need to ask the federal government for money to carry out their projects. With Bill C-24, the Innu nation in the Essipit region can go ahead with its plans.

The same is true in Mashteuiatsh, which is in the riding of the Minister of State for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, just outside Roberval. The first nations socio-economic forum was held in Mashteuiatsh a few years ago. The idea of a bill to help develop reserve land and help meet the desperate needs of first nations communities was raised at that forum and everyone agreed.

When Bill C-63—which became Bill C-24 after the prorogation—was introduced, we met with the Squamish First Nation. Since Bill C-24 is exactly the same as Bill C-63, we will not hesitate to ask the House to vote in favour of this bill, which is so important to first nations communities.

I would like to read this:

The First Nations Certainty of Land Title Act would [in fact, will] amend the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act to permit the registration of on-reserve commercial real estate developments in a system that replicates the provincial land titles or registry system.

We know how this works. There is a land registry where our homes in the country or the city are recorded. But this is not true of reserve lands. With this bill, aboriginal communities near and even in major centres could develop commercial projects that comply with the rules of neighbouring cities. I am talking about the Squamish in the Vancouver area, the Innu in Les Escoumins and the Masteuiash area, near Roberval, and the Algonquin in the community of Pikogan near Amos, in my riding.

First nations would not be able to build condominiums and sell them at well below market price to bring down the market, absolutely not. In the case of the Squamish, they could sell condos at market price and become less dependent on government assistance for aboriginal community development.

When a good bill is introduced, we almost always support it. And that is what we are going to do. As I have always said, if it is good for Quebec, we will vote for it; if it is not good for Quebec, we will vote against it. We have studied this bill with the authorities and we have had the time to obtain all the information we need. Consequently, we believe it is a very good bill. I know that the session will end in the coming hours. However, if possible, the bill must be implemented quickly in order to allow aboriginal communities to depend as little as possible on government money.

This is an interesting bill that will allow the sale of property at values comparable to those off reserve. We are familiar with the value of condominiums in the Vancouver area. Why would property on reserves in Squamish territory, in the City of Vancouver, not have the same value? The purpose of this bill is to have the government allow aboriginal peoples to look after themselves. It is probably one of the good bills that have been introduced. There was another good bill to implement the agreement with the Inuit of northern Quebec. It is exactly the same thing.

Aboriginal peoples are capable of creating worthwhile projects. However, we have to lend them a hand and this is an interesting bill. It will allow aboriginal peoples to have much greater autonomy. That is why the Bloc Québécois will be voting in favour of this bill.

First Nations Certainty of Land Title actGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-24, An Act to amend the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act and another Act in consequence thereof. New Democrats will be supporting the bill. There are a couple of really important points about how the bill was developed.

First, the bill was developed in full cooperation, support and consultation with the Squamish Nation. We can see the success of a piece of legislation that has had an appropriate consultation and involvement mechanism in place. We see in the House today a rapid passage of a piece of legislation that will directly impact on the economic well-being of the Squamish Nation.

The second point I would like to make is that many of the nations in this country talk about self-determination and the importance of having a say over how their lands are managed, how their lands are developed. I want to just point to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In that declaration, article 26 says:

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.

3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

In this piece of legislation we have not moved as far as many of the first nations in this country would like, but I think it is fairly clear from the UN declaration that first nations expect to say what happens on their land.

In this particular piece of legislation, and I want to acknowledge the parliamentary secretary for ably outlining the history of how we got to this place, I want to touch on a couple of points. We are dealing with an amendment to a piece of legislation called the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act, which came into force on April 1, 2006.

It is important to note that the legislation was optional. First nations had the right to opt in to that piece of legislation and it is totally within the control of the first nation itself about whether it chooses to use the mechanisms that are outlined.

As well, there are some regulatory gaps which leads us to the piece of legislation that we are dealing with today. The problem with a number of other pieces of legislation that could have been a mechanism for the Squamish Nation to use was that none of those acts had sufficient authority to clear the land title system as contained in the amendments that are before the House today.

Part of the challenge that we are facing is that it is very difficult to do commercial and industrial development on first nations reserve lands. Part of that challenge is because the reserve lands fall under federal jurisdiction and the management of the property rights infrastructure on first nations reserve lands is very different, and I am quoting from some of the briefing documents for the legislation. It says, “--property rights infrastructure on first nations reserve lands is administered by two different federal departments operating under two different statutes”.

We have the Indian Act, which is administered by the Department of Indian Affairs, and then we have the Canada Land Survey Act, which stipulates that Natural Resources Canada is responsible for land survey information on all federal land.

We can see the challenges that would be facing a first nation if it was doing commercial and industrial development. It would have to wend its way through this complex bureaucracy, dealing with two separate federal government departments with two different pieces of legislation.

In addition to that, it was having a direct impact on a first nations ability to do that kind of economic development because again, in these briefing documents, it says that it is estimated that doing business on a reserve pursuant to the Indian Act takes four to six times longer than in adjacent areas.

We have these enormous time delays and this complexity of legislation, so when a first nation was working with a commercial developer, trying to bring forward a project, it was taking an inordinate amount of time to make that happen.

As some members have pointed out, this land was being discounted because of the complexity in getting projects approved and also because some of the issues around title were cumbersome and unclear. Many businesses simply were not willing to develop the partnership because of those issues. This legislation attempts to deal with that.

I want to talk historically about what the Squamish Nation has been developing over a number of years. The briefing document under “Potential Projects” states:

In July 2007, Squamish Nation submitted a detailed proposal to the federal government to use the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act to construct five waterfront condominium towers on Capilano Indian Reserve No. 5. The reserve is located on the north shore of Burrard Inlet at First Narrows, north end of Lions Gate Bridge in West Vancouver, British Columbia. The proposed amendments are integral to this proposal to address the market discount that arises due to title uncertainty. In the case of the Squamish Nation project, the regulatory regimes would replicate the provincial land registry, title guarantee and leasehold strata property rights regime by incorporating by reference the British Columbia Land Title Act and Strata Property Act and other applicable provincial legislation.

This is important because it is an established provincial system that would clearly outline the elements around title and strata. There is no point in reinventing a system when a very good system is already in place, has a proven track record and is well understood by commercial and industrial developers and, therefore, would remove some of the uncertainty.

I want to touch on a couple of sections of the bill because people are concerned that this somehow does something to first nations' rights to the land. I will refer to an explanatory note and not the actual wording of the legislation. The explanatory note around the specific regulation-making power states:

A fee simple interest (or full ownership in the civil law of Quebec) is the most complete form of land ownership that a person can hold.

Some provincial land titles systems permit only fee simple title to be registered. The regulations may therefore need to deem the interest in reserve land held by Canada to be a fee simple title, if the First Nation in question is still operating under the Indian Act. If the First Nation in question is operating under the First Nations Land Management Act, the interest of the First Nation would be deemed to be fee simple.

Deeming reserve land would not turn it into a fee simple interest for purposes other than its registration and would not affect the real, underlying interest of either Canada or the First Nation in the lands in question. The deeming of such reserve land as fee simple would simply be a mechanism to permit the land to be included in a land titles system operated on the same basis as provincial law.

It is this point that is very important. What we have here is a recognition that the land continues to be held by the first nation or the Crown, depending on the arrangement, but it is permitted that the land be registered under the provincial land registry system. This would enable commercial, real estate, industrial and other developers to work in partnership with the first nations to make sure they are able to gain the economic benefits that would not be discounted as they currently are. It is this kind of certainty that the Squamish Nation is looking for in terms of having some of the economic benefits returned to its own nation.

For many people who are not familiar with the particular piece of land that the Squamish Nation is attempting to develop, it is in West Vancouver. This is a prime piece of real estate. It is unfortunate that the Squamish Nation has not been able to gain the full benefit as other landholders in the area have. The Squamish Nation would like to see this kind of return to its community.

The last piece I would like to touch on is the clause-by-clause analysis. The briefing document states:

Lands of First Nations operating under the First Nations Land Management Act will be registered in the name of the First Nation. In order to remove any doubts about the legal status of First Nations operating under that Act to transact business under these proposed provisions and regulations, the regulations may, if necessary, confirm that the First Nation has the requisite legal capacity to hold, transfer and register interests and rights in the lands in question.

It may come as a surprise to many Canadians who are listening to this debate that first nations actually have not been able to use their land to lever loans from banks, for example, for development or for other commercial enterprises because of this uncertainty around the land title.

The legislation before us has been developed in conjunction with the Squamish Nation and will allow them to derive those economic benefits from their own lands. The NDP will be supporting it.

First Nations Certainty of Land Title actGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Pursuant to an order made earlier today, Bill C-24, An Act to amend the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act and another Act in consequence thereof is deemed read a second time, deemed referred to a committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

(Bill deemed read a second time, deemed referred to a committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed.)

First Nations Certainty of Land Title actGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would seek unanimous consent to see the clock at 5:38 p.m.

First Nations Certainty of Land Title actGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is there consent?

First Nations Certainty of Land Title actGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from May 6 consideration of the motion that Bill C-469, An Act to establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on May 6, 2010, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons concerning Bill C-469, An Act to establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights, standing in the name of the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona for her comments.

In raising his point of order, the parliamentary secretary set out two grounds on which he considered Bill C-469 to infringe the financial prerogative of the Crown. First, he argued that the bill creates potential new legal liabilities for the government because it allows the Federal Court to order that the government pay for the restoration or rehabilitation required by environmental harm or for the protection or enhancement of the environment generally. He pointed out that not only procedural authorities but also a number of previous Speakers' rulings make it quite clear that the imposing of liabilities on the Crown requires a royal recommendation.

His second point dealt with the role which the bill assigns to the Auditor General. He noted that clause 26 of the bill would require the Auditor General to review every regulation or government bill in order to determine whether or not they were consistent with the provisions of Bill C-469. This role would, according to the parliamentary secretary, shift the role of the Auditor General from one of simply auditing to that of reviewing policy proposals that have not yet been approved. He regarded this as an inadmissible expansion of the Auditor General's mandate. In support of his view, he noted that, in a ruling given on February 11, 2008, Debates pages 2853-4, concerning Bill C-474, the Federal Sustainable Development Act, an expansion of the role of the environment commissioner to include a national sustainability monitoring system had been found to represent a change of mandate that required a royal recommendation.

In addressing the point of order, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona argued that the bill does not create a new liability for the government, but merely provides legal standing for actions to be brought should the government fail to assert its existing jurisdiction and legislated powers. She also drew the attention of the House to the fact that statutory authority to make payments exists under the provisions of the Crown Liability and Proceedings Act, should the government fail to carry out its duties.

With respect to the mandate of the Auditor General, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona pointed out that the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development falls under the authority of the Auditor General. She indicated that a broad mandate is given to the commissioner and that, in her view, none of the requirements of Bill C-469 went beyond the authority already provided to the commissioner by the Auditor General Act. She also noted that any increased expenditure would be operational in nature and would not involve a new activity or function.

The Chair has examined Bill C-469 carefully, as well as the authorities and precedents cited. There are essentially two points which the Chair is asked to address: first, does the bill authorize new expenditures of public funds by creating new or contingent liabilities for the Crown and, secondly, does the bill alter the role of the Auditor General by expanding her mandate beyond that currently provided for in the Auditor General Act.

In his remarks, the parliamentary secretary cited two cases in which an extension of Crown liability was ruled to require a royal recommendation. In one case, concerning the Farm Improvement Loans Act, it was proposed to raise the loan ceiling from $25,000 to $40,000. In the other case, a bill sought to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in a way which would have increased the government's liability under the Canada Student Loans Act. In both of these cases, the government, as guarantor of the respective loans, would have been exposed to increased liability.

While the requirement for a royal recommendation in cases concerning loan limits and loan guarantees is well established, not all types of liability are subject to the same requirement. It is important in this context to distinguish between a liability for new payments under an existing program and a liability arising by reason of a court judgment rendered against the Crown. The rulings to which the parliamentary secretary has referred relate to a liability of the first kind. Erskine May, 23rd edition, at page 888 states that no recommendation is required from the Crown where: “—such a liability arises as an incidental consequence of a proposal to apply or modify the general law.”

The parliamentary secretary has argued that new liabilities are created by Bill C-469. The Chair is not convinced of this. The bill provides a new means by which the Crown can be proceeded against where it has failed to meet its legal obligations. This is simply a new means of being called to account, not to a creation of a new responsibility for which additional expenditures of public funds will be required.

The Chair is also of the view that creating a new basis for legal actions against the Crown does not extend the Crown's liability as it currently exists under the Crown Liability and Proceedings Act. In the absence of an expansion of a liability for the new payments under an existing program, there does not appear to be a basis for the claim that the objects and purposes of that act are being extended to where an authorization is being given to make new expenditures of public funds.

The Chair would now like to turn to the question of whether or not Bill C-469 seeks to expand the mandate of the Auditor General.

As the member for Edmonton—Strathcona pointed out, the Office of the Auditor General includes the position of Commissioner of the Environment, who reports to Parliament through the Auditor General. The Commissioner is given a broad mandate with respect to the content of that office’s reports, as set out in paragraph 23(2) of the Act, which reads, in part:

The Commissioner shall, on behalf of the Auditor General, report annually to the House of Commons concerning anything that the Commissioner considers should be brought to the attention of the House in relation to environmental and other aspects of sustainable development—

The provisions of Bill C-469 concerning the Auditor General are limited to the examination of federal bills and regulations. Here again, it does not appear that the bill broadens the mandate of the commissioner, nor does it require the commissioner to undertake any work not already within his purview.

In conclusion, the Chair is unable to find any authorization for a new expenditure of public funds in Bill C-469, nor does the bill appear to assign any function to the Office of the Auditor General that goes beyond the existing mandate of that office. I therefore rule that Bill C-469 does not infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown and so does not require a royal recommendation.

I once again would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this matter, as well as the member for Edmonton—Strathcona for her comments.

I thank honourable members for their attention.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-469, An Act to establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, we have become increasingly aware that we can longer claim to keep the economy and environment separate. We understand that the two go together and should be considered as a single element to create prosperity for our country, our citizens and our communities. I would even go further and say that human civilization can no longer be separated from this planet and from this environment that nourishes us.

More of us are living in cities and taking for granted that which nourishes and sustains us. Our food comes from the supermarket. We turn on the tap and the water runs. For energy, we need only go to the gas station and use the pump to get gas or plug in our appliances and use the electricity. We take all of that for granted.

We have taken for granted, to a really troubling level, our planet's capacity to sustain us, to enable us, to give us the means to live these rich and fulfilling lives that we all have. We have done this because over the centuries our planet's capacity has seemed infinite to renew itself, to replenish itself, to heal itself from ills, natural disasters or from human-made shifts and changes.

However, things have changed now in the 21st century and through the latter half of the 20th century. We have begun to fill up our planet, not necessarily with human beings yet, although we are on our way to 10 billion, but with our footprint.

In this chamber right now, all the different members of Parliament sitting here in the clothes that they are wearing, the electronics on their wrists and in their pockets and in the food that is in their bellies, we are now drawing on every corner of this planet for things that seem very local.

We can no longer pretend that we are not deeply connected to the land. We can no longer simply assume what we have up until this point, two basic assumptions we tend to make that we no longer question and that no longer hold true in our civilization and in our society in the 21st century.

The first we have is about space, that we will always have enough space, that there will always be enough room to grow, that there will always be more resources to find and that there will be no consequences once we throw something away because it will just degrade and disappear into the environment. We think this way because we have been successful in thinking this way because we have been successful in thinking this way for the centuries and the millennia that humans have been organized into cities and even before. However, the reality is that we can no longer ignore the consequences of seemingly small actions because, added together, all of our individual actions have tremendous consequences.

Similarly, in our regard to time, we always feel like there is enough time for the planet to replenish itself, there is enough time for us to shift in our behaviours and there will be enough time for us to respond to whatever crisis comes by and react to it. We have always been this way because we have succeeded in this way. We have always felt that nothing we could do collectively would have much of an impact on our planet as a whole.

However, that has now changed. We now can no longer hold to those assumptions. We have to begin respecting and understanding our links to the land.

Canada is an extraordinary country that is defined by its land as much as anything else. We are a vast country that stretches from coast to coast to coast. Our capacity to imagine ourselves and to define ourselves hinges on recognizing the vastness that surrounds us, the size and the distances between communities, and the extraordinary variances we have across this country from the top of the mountains to the forests to the prairie plains to the muskegs and the tundra to the coastal communities.

Everywhere we go in this country we are surrounded by our land and yet in our cities we forget about that. We need to remember that we are linked to the natural processes, to the ecosystem services that sustain us and permit us to live these full and enriching lives. That is something that we could take for granted for an awfully long time but we now no longer can.

If we are defined by our land, we are so, too, defined by the principles and the values that we set forth in our core documents, like the Constitution or our Bill of Rights. The idea that 100 years ago or 500 years ago one would have to enshrine the right to fresh air or clean water would have seemed silly. Obviously everyone has a right to that, there was no need for it. It would be like trying to legislate that people have to obey the law of gravity.

Unfortunately, the reality has changed. We need to take a moment in this space to look at articulating and enshrining these principles that we have always taken for granted that we no longer can.

This discussion on the proposal brought forward by the member for Edmonton—Strathcona is one that is extremely worthy of our fullest consideration. It is a shame to me that we would have to be discussing this, that somehow it would be possible that as a governing body, as a federal government, as a Parliament we would be putting forward laws and bills that would not take into account human beings' rights to live in a healthy, ecologically balanced environment.

Unfortunately, we must consider it now. When we look around the world at the different countries and the different jurisdictions that have brought forward initiatives such as this, stood forward on the possibility and the requirement to consider environmental rights, environmental responsibilities in every piece of legislation passed, we see that there are a number of positive consequences to this. We end up with stronger laws, better implementation, a more engaged public, more active courts and an increased accountability.

Those are the things that we need to start looking at. We need to begin to understand that the environment is not something that happens out there. It is not just about trees, birds and butterflies. It is about human beings who breath, eat, drink, build, dream and hope, and we can only do that if we are building on a strong foundation that respects the world around us.

The Liberal Party is pleased to see this bill come forward so we can discuss it and look at the best ways to implement this, discuss it in committee and ensure that Canada starts founding all of its laws and principles on a healthy respect for a strong environment.