Mr. Speaker, it is also my pleasure to rise and speak to Motion No. 386 by the member for Toronto Centre.
Contrary to the submission by the previous member, I have quite a different understanding of what the member for Toronto Centre is proposing. Regardless of the details therein, he is pretty straightforward. What he does say, as have first nations and the government itself, is that the Indian Act embodies failed colonial, paternalistic policies. Individual members of the House have said that.
What this motion calls for is the opposite of what the government has been doing, despite what Conservative members are saying. What the government has been doing, including through private members' bills, is unilaterally bringing new legislation to the House, including rescinding the Indian Act, before it has delivered on its constitutional responsibility for advance consultation with the very first nations who will be impacted.
Indeed, I support the intent of this motion, as does my party. The motion is essentially not to move forward on significant changes to the Indian Act. Frankly, I would hope that this would include any legislation impacting first nations' lands and peoples, until there has been a formal process of direct engagement with first nations. That is precisely what the Prime Minister promised almost a year ago.
I could not agree more that the most important action, which seems to be the one that the government fails to comprehend, is to reach out and finally initiate this process of direct consultation. Sadly, one thing that seems to be missing is any commitment of dollars to realize that. I will speak to that in a moment.
We have witnessed a number of initiatives by the government, including legislation on safe drinking water, financial accountability and land management. We have had private members' bills proposing to rescind various provisions of the Indian Act.
In all of those cases, there was no intensive advance consultation and consideration of the views of the impacted first nations and peoples, and the effects on their lands. That is a break from the very promise made by the Prime Minister at the summit he held this January between the Crown and first nations. At that summit, as well, the Prime Minister stated:
To be sure, our government has no grand scheme to repeal or unilaterally rewrite the Indian Act. After 136 years that treaty has deep roots, blowing up the stump would just leave a big hole.
He then said that there were a number of creative, collaborative ways to go forward.
We have witnessed in the House what their so-called creative, collaborative ways are. They are incredibly paternalistic or they are incredibly shallow, for example, the safe drinking water bill with its great promises but zero content and no dollars committed in the budget this year to actually moving forward on the substantive regulations.
I took the time in my job at committee to review Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development's supplementary estimates (B). In looking at the plans and priorities for 2012, I was delighted to see the department actually claim to be moving forward with developing the very promises of the Crown-first nations summit. However, regrettably, when one looks at the department's main estimates and supplementary estimates (A) and (B), there are zero dollars committed to delivering on this promise. In committee, the response to me by the deputy was that this was actually being done between the lines as the department moved forward with the specific initiatives. However, I am hearing back from the first nations that they do not think that approach is very satisfactory.
The first thing I would certainly recommend to the member who tabled the motion and the government is that it is time to step up to the plate and put some dollars on the table to deliver on the actual promises made. That is what action is; that is what putting money where one's mouth is.
I concur with the member that the list is mounting of the commitments and obligations of government to move forward on this new, touted more respectful nation-to-nation relationship.
We have the obligations under section 35 of the constitution, the historic and modern treaties, the fiduciary duties under law, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Again, as I raised yesterday, article 18 requires Canada, because it has endorsed this declaration, to recognize that:
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.
Article 19 says that:
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.
Clearly the motion is recommending to the government and to this place that we finally step up to the plate and adhere to the very declaration that the government signed on to.
What is the key to a respectful process? As I mentioned, the string of laws that have been tabled in this place, frankly, according to the first nations, has not followed that new protocol.
In closing, I would like to share the words of the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who has spoken out very clearly about his perspective on whether the government is in fact delivering on its promises at the Crown-first nations summit. In the words of National Chief Atleo:
Recognizing and implementing Aboriginal and Treaty rights takes us back to the very founding of this country—a country founded on our lands and politically on peaceful agreements based on respect, recognition, sharing and partnership.
Since 1982, successive governments have shown little interest in the real and hard work of reconciliation. There has been talk, but we know the equation of empty initiatives: talk minus action equals zero....
We’re taking action. For decades now we’ve been putting forward positive plans for progress and change, plans aimed at breathing life into the promises we made to one another and plans that will ensure a better future for our children.
Government’s response has often been limited, narrow, piecemeal and unilateral.
In the absence of the honour of the Crown, much of the ground that’s been broken has been through the courts.
The National Chief goes through a long litany of litigation that he regrets first nations are forced to take because of the failure of the government to live up to these commitments and obligations.
The National Chief then goes on to say:
But clearly change does not come easily and all of these efforts are hampered by what First Nations see as ongoing unilateral attempts to affect our rights and intensified pressures on our lands and resources.
Current policies and approaches too often only serve to stall negotiations. It prevents First Nations from benefiting from their collective rights. It impedes the economic and political development that would take us forward to become fully self-governing nations....
It’s clear that the current federal policies, fiscal arrangements and negotiation processes are not up to the task.
The chief of the Assembly of First Nations said very clearly he would disagree with what the government is saying to us today. He is saying that the processes right now for developing these new laws and policies are not up to task.
Shawn Atleo continues:
We can find a path forward—a path that starts with our earliest relations—the Royal Proclamation, the Treaties of Peace and friendship, the pre-confederation and numbered Treaties—the absolute foundation of Canada’s growth and progress as a Nation to section 35 and to the standards set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples....
First and foremost, First Nations need to be directly and fully involved in any process of change. This is consistent with our historic relationship as partners in Confederation and as Treaty partners, and it is consistent with the spirit of section 35. It is high time that the government stops trying to do things for us and starts doing things with us.
I closing, I think the first nations have been clear. We have heard the responses of the first nation leaders and peoples to the string of legislation the government has brought forward. If we have heard one consistent response, it is that they have not been properly consulted, and that is what the Prime Minister promised at the summit.
It is time to move forward to support the motion, begin the consultation and commit the dollars to make it happen.