House of Commons Hansard #8 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was indian.


Selection of AmendmentsPoints of OrderPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I thank the hon. member for her intervention on this matter. The member will be familiar with the process for selecting amendments at report stage. We will take the member's concern under advisement and perhaps get back to her on the point at a later time.

This is a process that is followed essentially by precedent in consideration of the committee's work and a decision is taken on that. The decision has been taken, as was presented here just before we took up debate on the matter. As the member will know, we have now proposed Motions Nos. 2 and 3, which are now before the House for debate.

We will continue on and get back to the House, as the case may be. The hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-428, An Act to amend the Indian Act (publication of by-laws) and to provide for its replacement, as reported (with amendments) from the committee.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.


Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, all the proposed changes within this bill have been derived from direct feedback from first nations members.

As a first nation citizen living under the Indian Act and as a former RCMP officer enforcing the act, I know first-hand the racist and debilitating nature of the laws contained within it.

Initially, when I first brought forward this legislation, not everyone fully understood the intention behind this bill. However, when people actually saw the changes that I am proposing, these misconceptions were swiftly erased.

Despite only having limited resources available to me as a private member, I am delighted to have had the opportunity to discuss the finer points of the bill with many prominent members, both leaders and community members, of first nations across Canada.

The fact remains that everyone agrees the Indian Act is an archaic and fundamentally bigoted piece of legislation that governs the day-to-day lives of first nations and that it must go. No other Canadian is subject to such an offensive piece of legislation that interferes in their day-to-day lives.

Any concerns that this bill is an attempt to totally eliminate the Indian Act and leave nothing in its stead have long since been laid to rest. However, I believe that the practical and incremental changes proposed in the bill can lead to further meaningful conversation about how the Indian Act could be dismantled and replaced.

It is important to highlight that Bill C-428 includes a mandate to ensure ongoing consultations between first nations and the crown, working together to ultimately repeal and replace the entire Indian Act. Though this piece of legislation does not represent a complete replacement of the Indian Act, I believe it is the first step of meaningful change.

The fact that my private member's bill has generated so much attention is indicative of the ongoing sensitivity of the issues which surround the Indian Act.

During the course of the formulation of this private member's bill I wrote on six separate occasions to more than 600 first nations communities across Canada asking them to share information about my bill with their membership and to provide me with their feedback. The input generated by these letters has been integral to the continuing development of my private member's bill.

Additionally, I have had the pleasure of holding discussions with numerous first nations leaders and activist organizations and groups about the nature of the Indian Act and the changes I am proposing.

It has been my honour to hold information sessions with first nations bands and major organizations in Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. I have given presentations to student groups, aboriginal professionals, and interested non-aboriginals on the nature of Bill C-428. A YouTube video explaining the bill has been made available to all members of the public. I did two national tele town halls with first nations on this legislation just last spring. Since August 2012 I have been advertising widely on aboriginal radio across the west and also in my riding asking for input on my bill. My Parliament of Canada website hosts a section devoted to the bill and contains a survey seeking input.

All of those actions and initiatives provide a wealth of information sharing, with knowledge and appreciation of viewpoints travelling in both directions.

I am proud to say that I have the support of many first nations members and bands within and outside of my own riding.

I would like to take this opportunity to briefly summarize some areas of this legislation.

The Indian Act has created barriers between first nations and the rest of Canada. These barriers are economic, cultural and societal.

Our government is committed to supporting first nations and to creating the conditions for them to become healthier and more self-sufficient while breaking down these barriers.

One of my goals in the creation of this bill was to remove unused archaic, irrelevant, and offensive sections of the Indian Act, for instance, the section requiring first nations to gain the approval of the minister before enacting bylaws on their own first nations lands.

Bill C-428 would remove this requirement, allowing first nations councils to create and publish their own laws, in much the same way and manner that any other local government is allowed to enact a local law. No other community or level of government in Canada requires the permission of the minister to enact such laws.

These sections are part of a complex legal underbrush that makes the Indian Act an irrelevant and antiquated piece of legislation. Although incremental, the changes I am proposing are concrete actions which would create enduring changes in the lives of first nations citizens. Bill C-428 would also remove references to residential schools from the Indian Act. As a grandson of two residential school survivors, I have seen first-hand the devastating effects that residential schools have had on our people. There is no place in Canadian law in the year 2013 for residential schools. I cannot wait for the references of this shameful period of our nation's history to be erased from the books.

This bill would also ensure consultation on the eventual repeal and replacement of the Indian Act with a more modern and respectful document that would treat first nations governments with mutual respect. By legislating the requirement of the annual report from the minister on the progress made toward repealing and replacing the Indian Act, we would ensure the process is kept on track. This process acknowledges that parts of the Indian Act as it stands have served and can continue to serve well for first nations communities.

To quote the Prime Minister:

The Indian Act cannot be replaced overnight, but through the use of existing tools and the development of new mechanisms, both parties can create the conditions to enable sustainable and successful First Nations.

That is what is at the heart of this private member's bill. We, as parliamentarians and Canadians, simply need to have the courage and political will to take these first incremental steps toward a better relationship between our federal government and Canada's first nations.

As my colleagues should be aware, a number of further improvements to my private member's bill were made at the committee stage. For example, due to the change in the sections of the Indian Act dealing with bylaws, we are adjusting the wording of the bill to ensure that first nations communities maintain their right to control alcohol on reserve. In addition, we have made another change that would provide flexibility in the publication of bylaws so that first nations could choose the manner in which they wish to inform their membership and visitors to their communities of the laws they have passed.

In conclusion, I can find no one who would support the continuation of the failed colonial, and fundamentally racist, Indian Act that served as a template for South African apartheid. Apartheid was abolished in South Africa in 1994, and yet the Indian Act, the parent legislation, is still part of Canadian law in 2013.

Bill C-428 would kick-start the process by which we could bring our government's relationship with Canada's first nations out of the 19th century and into the modern era. I would be proud to have a hand in the creation of a better world for first nations through the repeal of this bigoted Indian Act and its replacement with a more modern and respectful document.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly want to commend the member for bringing forward a piece of legislation that he feels is important to him, but I have to question whether he feels that a private member can supplant the government's duty to consult.

The Supreme Court has reaffirmed the fact that the government's duty and the Crown's duty to consult cannot be delegated to any other organization or authority. Although the member says he has taken the trouble to inform his constituents and others about his intentions, I would argue that does not constitute the legal duty by the Crown to consult. I wonder if he could comment on whether he is leading us to believe that a member can supplant the Crown's duty to consult.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to my colleague on the other side of the House, and it is the same paternalistic approach that New Democrats are taking to dictate to me, being a first nation and having lived under the Indian Act. I am listening to this individual criticize without having had to experience what effect the Indian Act has on an individual from the time one is born until the time one dies. The decisions are still made by the minister.

Having gone through Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia to meet with individuals and ask for their input, I started with a draft back on September 7, 2011. The bottom line was to repeal the Indian Act. However, listening to individuals and first nations across the country is how it arrived at the current stage; that is, to amend the Indian Act, repeal outdated sections, and basically start a new process of consultation that legislates the government to work closely with first nations.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

We had a Friday afternoon bonus question put into the mix this afternoon. We normally do not do questions and comments at report stage of private members' bills, as members will recall.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for the opportunity to pose a question to the mover of the bill.

I am, of course, rising to speak to Bill C-428.

I want to start with a quote from volume 1 of the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples with respect to recommending a commitment to ethical principles of relations:

To begin the process, the federal, provincial and territorial governments, on behalf of the people of Canada, and national Aboriginal organizations, on behalf of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, commit themselves to building a renewed relationship based on the principles of mutual recognition, mutual respect, sharing and mutual responsibility; these principles to form the ethical basis of relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal societies in the future and to be enshrined in a new Royal Proclamation and its companion legislation

This report came forward in 1996 and has largely not been implemented.

I read that piece around ethical relations because it would seem to me that those principles of mutual respect and recognition are important when we reform any legislation that has an impact on first nations.

I want to talk a little bit about the Indian Act itself. As the member rightly pointed out, the Indian Act is a paternalistic piece of legislation.

I want to read a couple of pieces from a document, “Like an Ill-Fitting Boot: Government, Governance and Management Systems in the Contemporary Indian Act”.

It says:

Today the Indian Act is the repository of the struggle between Indian peoples and colonial and later Canadian policy-makers for control of Indian peoples' destiny within Canada. The marks of that struggle can be seen in almost every one of its provisions.

It goes on to outline a couple of major problems with the Indian Act. It says:

The Indian Act appears to be a legislative fossil. It reflects administrative and organizational practices that were characteristic of public institutions in the early and mid-twentieth century, but that have been modified and superseded in other governments. The Act relies upon regulation, top-down authorities, fiscal control, and enforcement. Today most Canadian governments and other organizations rely upon collegial decision-making and policy development, policy research, human resource development, management accounting systems, and citizen engagement. The Indian Act does not mention these things, and the basic provisions do not leave much room for them.

The Indian Act has a powerful impact on the quality of democracy in Band governments. Having the force of law and backed by financial power, the Act mandates one particular set of institutions and practices to the exclusion of others. In this way it affects the abilities of First Nations to shape more accountable and democratic governments.

It also says:

Few people are satisfied with the Indian Act, but no one will deny its importance.

This is why it is important to have a very respectful, thoughtful, collaborative process in order to replace the Indian Act.

The author went on to say:

For the individuals to whom it applies, the Act is a basic and specific constitutional document. It defines their rights and entitlements, their citizenship and their relationship to the federal and provincial governments. It provides the mechanisms that include or exclude them from membership in a Band. For First Nations, it creates the framework within which both public and First Nations officials and political leaders must work, profoundly shaping the nations’ political and economic life.

That in itself has been a long-standing argument about why governments of various political stripes should not be doing things piecemeal and taking apart the Indian Act. It has major repercussions and implications for first nations' relationships both among the nations themselves and with the government.

Finally, the author said:

It is obvious that the original Indian Act was not created with the self-determination of First Nations communities in mind. Its original purpose was to permit federal officials to control First Nations and to enable social engineering–the coercive transformation of Indigenous societies and governments to bring them into line with the purposes and visions of the Canadian government.

With that kind of background, it becomes absolutely critical when there are proposed changes to the Indian Act that there be a process put in place which is co-created with first nations. On that point, I want to refer to article 19 in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Article 19 says:

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.

In that context, with all due respect to the member, he is not the Crown. He is an individual in the House. He does not have the authority or the resources to implement a consultation process. He may well have talked to first nations and other organizations, but that does not meet the test of duty to consult.

With regard to the bill, in April, the committee received a document from Paul Chartrand Consulting. In that document, Mr. Chartrand said:

My first recommendation is a policy that no amendment to the act is to be proposed or introduced in Parliament without first conducting proper consultations with first nations representatives, and that all bills be drafted in consultation with them.

This approach would tend to promote the democratic principle that laws ought not to be passed without the agreement of those who are to bear the burdens or reap the benefits of the legislation. This approach would at least partly remedy the lack of equitable representation and participation of first nations in Canada's Parliament....

In the event that the government struggles with what appropriate consultation would look like, I would like to refer it to its own ministerial representative Wendy Grant-John's report on matrimonial real property. She laid out a process for what consultation could look like. She said:

The Department should develop, as soon as possible, specific policies and procedures relating to consultation in order to ensure that future consultation activities can identify and discharge any legal duty to consult while also fulfilling objectives of good governance and public policy by:

1) Ensuring First Nations have relevant information to the issues for decision in a timely manner;

2) Providing an opportunity for First Nations to express their concerns and views on potential impacts of the legislative proposal and issues relating to the existence of a duty to consult;

3) Listening to, analyzing and seriously considering the representations and concerns of First Nations in the context of relevant legal and policy principles including their relationship to other constitutional and human rights principles;

4) Ensuring proper analyses by the Department of Justice of section 35 issues relating to any proposed legislative initiative are thoroughly canvassed before, during and after consultations;

5) Seriously considering proposals for mitigating potentially negative impacts on aboriginal and treaty rights or other rights and interests of First Nations and making necessary accommodations by changing the government’s proposal

6) Establishing, in consultation with First Nations, a protocol for the development of legislative proposals.

We can see time and time again where legislation is brought forward in the House that does not meet those six criteria, very ably outlined by Wendy Grant-John for the then-minister of Aboriginal Affairs.

There are international conventions around proposals for what consultations should look like in a domestic setting. This is from Convention No. 169 from the International Labour Organization, also known as the ILO. They have a specific section on consultation and participation. It said:

The spirit of consultation and participation constitutes the cornerstone of Convention No. 169 on which all its provisions are based. The Convention requires that indigenous and tribal peoples are consulted on issues that affect them. It also requires that these peoples are able to engage in free, prior and informed participation in policy and development processes that affect them.

The principles of consultation and participation in Convention No. 169 relate not only to specific development projects, but also to broader questions of governance, and the participation of indigenous and tribal peoples in public life.

In Article 6, the Convention provides a guideline as to how consultation with indigenous and tribal peoples should be conducted:

Consultation with indigenous peoples should be undertaken through appropriate procedures, in good faith, and through the representative institutions of these peoples;

The peoples involved should have the opportunity to participate freely at all levels in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of measures and programmes that affect them directly;

Another important component of the concept of consultation is that of representativity. If an appropriate consultation process is not developed with the indigenous and tribal institutions or organizations that are truly representative of the peoples in question, then the resulting consultations would not comply with the requirements of the Convention.

In conclusion, with respect to the member, the process that he has undertaken does not fulfill either domestic or international parameters for duty to consult. I would argue that all members in the House should vote against the bill. The Indian Act changes have far-reaching effects and they must be undertaken in a responsible, respectful manner.

Selection of Amendments—Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate, I would just like to take a moment to get back to the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan and the House in respect to the point of order she raised earlier this hour.

As I alluded to in the course of my comments at the time, the practice of taking up consideration of selection or non-selection of amendments at report stage is a practice that the Speaker takes under consideration in the normal course and with the precedents of the House.

I would like to draw to the attention of the House a decision from March 21, 2001, by Speaker Milliken, who was Speaker at that time. He concludes, after a considerable preamble on this very point:

Finally, the Chair intends to maintain its current practice of not providing justification for the selection of amendments, or reasons for the non-selection of amendments at the time of a report stage ruling.

Members may have recollected that there have been some exceptional occasions when the Speaker has provided additional explanation in respect of these reasons. I would point out, however, that this only occurs at a time when those circumstances are exceptional.

In this particular case, the selection of report stage amendments was the usual practice, and the consideration was given at that time. I would remind the House that these decisions are indeed final.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-428, An Act to amend the Indian Act (publication of by-laws) and to provide for its replacement, as reported (with amendments) from the committee.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the member for Kingston and the Islands, I am the successor to former Speaker Milliken. It is an interesting coincidence, and perhaps not a coincidence, that he remains so present. I saw him in my riding yesterday. I saw him in the lobby for lunch, and I had just heard about a precedent from one of his rulings. I thought I would take advantage at this point to remind the House of the service Speaker Milliken rendered to this body.

It is a pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-428. I would like to begin by saying that I believe that the decision of the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River to bring forward this private member's bill was rooted in good intentions.

There is no question that the Indian Act is the embodiment of failed colonial and paternalistic policies, which have denied first nations their rights and their fair share of resources.

It has fostered mistrust and has created systemic barriers to the self-determination and success of first nations. However, the elimination of these barriers requires the Government of Canada to engage directly with first nations, on a nation-to-nation basis, and to establish a formal process to replace the Indian Act with new agreements.

This private member's bill, no matter how well-intentioned, is not the way forward. This is what witness after witness made crystal clear during the committee hearings. Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould, representing the Assembly of First Nations at the aboriginal affairs committee, stated:

...I commend MP Clarke's leadership in bringing forward this bill to further stimulate the conversation about what actually needs to be done to move forward. Unfortunately, Bill C-428 is not the solution. We need strong and appropriate governance, not tinkering with the Indian Act, creating perhaps the illusion of progress.

Michèle Audette, President of the Native Women's Association of Canada, stated at committee:

Yes, we need to get rid of the Indian Act, but not this way, not the way it's proposed.

She went on to say:

I urge you, members of Parliament, to withdraw or to abandon this legislation and to please make sure that we will be part of such changes, as community members, as mothers, and for the rest of women across Canada.

During the Crown-first nations gathering, the Prime Minister said that his government would not repeal or unilaterally rewrite the Indian Act. However, in effect, that is exactly what this private member's bill, with the wholehearted support of the government, purports to do.

The member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River is proposing to amend numerous sections of the Indian Act without consulting in any meaningful way with first nations across Canada about the possible impacts of those changes or whether these changes reflect the priorities of first nations.

The member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River himself, when speaking to the committee, conceded that he, as an individual member of Parliament, has neither the financial nor human capacity to do a proper consultation. He said:

...a private member's bill in the House of Commons does not have the financial or human resources for me to conduct a full-scale consultation....

He went on later to say:

Currently, the federal government has the mandate to do a formal consultation. They have the capacity. They have the budgets. They have the individuals and human resources to do the formal consultation.

Those are the words of the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

As was made clear by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, FSIN, the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River even failed to consult substantively with first nations in his own province before he tabled his bill.

In a public statement last fall, the then FSIN Interim Chief, Bobby Cameron, commented on this legislation saying:

There are too many unanswered questions. The FSIN demands meaningful consultation and accommodation before anything is changed or replaced in the Indian Act.

He went on to state:

The private member's bill is a red herring used to distract from the real issues the Conservative government is not addressing, such as comparable education funding, housing, economic development and health care. Appealing and amending the Indian Act will not address these outstanding Treaty issues.

The result of this complete lack of prior consultation was a profoundly flawed piece of legislation riddled with unintended consequences. Even though the government members enthusiastically supported the bill at second reading, they conceded at committee that it required major work.

For instance, a significant portion of the bill was directed at amending portions of the Indian Act that deal with wills and estates. After extensive expert testimony at committee, it became clear that there were numerous unintended consequences, regarding everything from Indian customary adoptions to how a common-law spouse would be treated. With the agreement of the Conservative majority on the committee, the entire portion of the bill dealing with wills and estates was voted down.

There were also serious problems with the repeal of section 85.1 of the Indian Act, which would have created complications for first nations that wish to maintain bylaws prohibiting or regulating intoxicants. This clause also had to be amended to prevent the potentially devastating impact of restricting first nations communities' ability to declare reserves “dry”.

There were many other amendments made at committee to try to limit the potential unintended negative impacts of the original bill, but questions still remain about what still-unknown impacts this tinkering would have. For instance, when the government members and the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River tried to fix some of the unintended consequences of the legislation during clause-by-clause at committee, they unintentionally created further problems.

The bill, as presented now, would make various sections of the Indian Act applicable to designated lands in a way that the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River never intended. I understand this error is the subject of report stage amendments, but this is simply further evidence that trying to tinker in this way with such a profoundly complicated and important piece of legislation as the Indian Act is reckless and sets a very dangerous precedent.

I urge members to heed the warnings of first nations leaders that, regardless of any positive intentions behind this private member's bill, this is not the way to move beyond the outdated and colonial Indian Act.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

October 25th, 2013 / 2:05 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.


Mark Strahl ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to join in this debate.

It is disappointing, but unfortunately not surprising, to see that the opposition is once again standing up for the status quo when it comes to first nations issues. Our government knows that for too many years, 137 years to be exact, first nations communities have been governed by an outdated and archaic Indian Act that has been holding them back from achieving their full potential.

That is why I am proud to speak today in this House in support of this bill brought forward by my colleague, the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, which seeks to modernize certain outdated sections of the Indian Act that will help to empower first nation communities, take the minister out of the equation, and create the conditions for healthier, more self-sufficient first nations communities.

Our government believes it is time to take action to address and confront the issues contained within the Indian Act.

Our government and our Prime Minister have also been very clear that no grand scheme exists to unilaterally replace the Indian Act. On the contrary, our government remains committed to working with willing first nations to make changes to elements of the Indian Act that are barriers to first nations governance and economic growth.

At the Crown-First Nations Gathering in January 2012, the Prime Minister stated about the Indian Act, “After 136 years, that tree has deep roots, blowing up the stump would just leave a big hole”. Creativity and collaboration, as provided by this bill, would go a long way toward the practical incremental changes that are required.

I want to commend my colleague from Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River for his willingness to bring forward this bill. His personal story as a first nations individual growing up under this act is a compelling one, which has led him to take action. His private member's bill is a positive step in the right direction. It proposes concrete action that would provide greater autonomy to first nations, lessen the role of ministerial involvement in the day-to-day lives of first nations citizens, and give back the responsibility for several key areas, such as bylaw-making powers over the first nations where it rightfully belongs.

This is consistent with our government's own approach to providing first nations with practical, incremental and real alternatives to the Indian Act. It would lead to real results for grassroots first nations people and enable them to achieve greater self-sufficiency and prosperity. For example, this past month I was pleased to attend an event in my home province of British Columbia, with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, to announce that 18 more first nations, including six from my own riding of Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, the Cheam, Scowlitz, Soowahlie, Boothroyd, Chawathil and Skuppah, have joined the first nations land management regime.

This regime exempts these first nations from 34 land-related sections of the Indian Act and allows them to develop a land code to manage their own reserve land and resources so they can take greater advantage of economic activities in their communities without having to wade through bureaucratic red tape.

As my hon. colleague has already noted, several technical improvements were made to the bill at the committee stage to address some of the concerns that first nations have raised and to ensure that first nations are best able to take advantage of these modernized provisions in the Indian Act. For example, section 85.1 of the Indian Act has to do with the ability of first nations to pass their own bylaws related to intoxicants, in other words to create a dry reserve. That was an amendment that was made at committee to ensure that first nations communities would maintain their right to control alcohol on their reserves.

In addition, the committee made another change that would provide first nations with greater flexibility in the publication of bylaws. They would be able to choose the manner in which they inform their community members about changes to their bylaws, either through a first nation's Internet site, the First Nations Gazette or a newspaper that has general circulation on the band lands.

Also, the committee heard from a number of witnesses about the complexity of moving forward with clause 7. That had to do with the administration of wills and estates and the need to study this further or risk creating an even more confusing regime than already exists. As a result, the committee agreed to delete this clause during clause-by-clause consideration.

However, there remain two coordinating amendments that must be made to clauses 3 and 4 of the proposed bill in order to move it forward. These motions seek to correct an oversight during clause-by-clause consideration of the bill at committee, following the removal of the wills and estates section of the bill. To not make these amendments would create unnecessary uncertainty and confusion for first nations.

Instead of taking the minister out of the equation, not making these coordinating amendments to clauses 3 and 4 would extend the minister's authority over wills and estates to all those living on designated lands and to all status Indians. This is clearly not the intention of my hon. colleague's bill.

These are all changes that are consistent with the direction that our government has been taking for the past six years. It is one that is focused on bringing forward initiatives that would unlock this economic development potential by removing certain barriers to first nation governance, which currently exist under the Indian Act. Ultimately, I believe that the bill is yet another example of the concrete action our government is taking to empower first nation communities to manage their own affairs and to encourage stronger, more accountable and prosperous first nation communities, where first nations' citizens have access to the same rights as all other Canadians.

Our government is proud to support Bill C-428. I urge all members of the House to help us swiftly pass it into law. First nations have waited long enough for changes to the Indian Act.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to clarify something which the previous speaker said, that the opposition did not want to take part in the Indian Act. I want to make it clear that the official opposition wants to get rid of the Indian Act, but we want to do it by consulting with first nations. We do not want to act like the Conservatives and tell the first nations what they want. We want them to tell us what they want. That is something strange for the Conservative Party.

I am happy to speak to this legislation concerning amendments to the Indian Act. This bill is important as it deals with deleting sections of the Indian Act on wills and estates, sales of produce, trade with certain people, and the sections on residential schools. It also calls on the government to make an annual report to Parliament on its progress on dismantling the Indian Act.

It is important for other reasons too. I am always happy to have another opportunity to speak about the four first nation communities in Nickel Belt, and specifically a few recent events that relate very much to the matter of consulting with first nation communities, which is an important element of our debate.

Nickel Belt's first nation communities include Nipissing First Nation, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, which I will speak about later, and also the Wahnapitae First Nation, which is extensively involved with Glencore Xtrata mining projects. They monitor the environment for this mining company along with the water. They do this because Glencore Xtrata consulted with the first nations. That is very important. The other first nation in my community is the Mattagami First Nation. They work very closely with a company called IAMGOLD. The reason they work very closely with this mining company is that the mining company consulted with the Mattagami First Nation. They work very well together.

If the Conservatives would start consulting with first nations, they would find that first nations are really interested in consulting. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are not.

These first nations make contributions to the social and economic life of our region. Given some of the urgent crisis in conditions in some first nation communities in the county, I want to say that these four communities find themselves in pretty good shape. This is the result of their leadership and community members. It is not to say there are no challenges, but it is to recognize the work that has been done there.

When I see a bill like this one regarding changes being made that so affect the lives of our aboriginal and first nation members, I would want to assume that they have been consulted about the changes, but that would be a bad assumption in this case with this bill. Sadly, it is a bad assumption, given the sorry record of the Conservatives and the past Liberal governments.

We do not support this bill for several reasons, including this glaring lack of consultation. The sponsor did not consult with first nations before presenting his bill. I was in his riding this summer. His constituents are very upset with him because he did not consult with them before he presented this bill.

It may be all well and good to delete some archaic provisions of the Indian Act, such as the sale of produce; however, it is not right to proceed to delete other sections, such as the provisions on wills and estates, which could put first nation citizens living on reserve in legal limbo because there is no guarantee that provincial legislation would appear to protect them.

Equally important, we object to the deletion of the provisions on residential schools. This was supposed to be in government legislation, not hidden in a private member's bill. New Democrats would like to see those provisions dealt with by the minister as promised to first nations at the first truth and reconciliation national ceremony.

Let me tell members about those recent events in my first nation communities that underline the importance of consultation with them.

Back in 2003, when the commission on boundaries decided it would split the Nipissing First Nation in two, one-third of it coming to Nickel Belt and two-thirds going to the Nipissing riding, it did not consult with the first nation and it made a very bad decision.

Fortunately this last commission will make this decision right. How will they make it right? By joining the community together and by consulting with the first nations to see what they wanted. The Nipissing First Nation members made it clear that they wanted to be together in one riding, and thankfully the commission listened to them.

Nipissing First Nation has also just recently concluded a $124 million land claim settlement. In the next month, it will be receiving financial compensation for over 100,000 acres that were lost to it due to an inaccurate survey done long ago. I was happy to do my part in getting the payment out to the Nipissing First Nation members, and I congratulate the minister for his role as well.

I mention it because the land claim settlement came about by consultation and listening. This must be at the heart of righting the relationships with our aboriginal brothers and sisters.

My second event to cite is a recent CBC Radio town hall in which I was happy to participate that took place at the Atikamesheng Anishnawbek First Nation. It addressed many pressing national and regional issues concerning them. The town hall was called Aboriginality: Living Together. The conversation about Canada's relationship with first nations has reached a critical point, and that relationship is critical to successful communities in northeastern Ontario. I would like to thank Markus Schwabe from CBC for putting this on. It was very informative and very good.

We talked about a lot of issues during that town hall. There was a round table set up and we had Mrs. Naponse at this round table. We had Chief Miller at this round table and we had John Rodriguez, an educator and former mayor, plus we had a Franco-Ontarian artist married to a first nations person.

We talked about a lot of things during this panel discussion, but the thing that impressed me the most was the number of people in that community centre, and the vast majority of them were white people. Every single one of them who got up to speak said that the government should consult with the first nations. That is exactly how the opposition feels.

For many years, first nations have said that the Indian Act is holding back progress. It does govern almost every aspect of life for people living on reserve. In July 2011 at the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations, National Chief Shawn Atleo said it was time to set aside the Indian Act and dismantle the Department of Indian Affairs to create two smaller departments, one to administer a government-to-government relationship, and the other to provide services to first nations. He also said that it was a process that must be led by first nations; again, consultations.

New Democrats want to work with first nations to develop modern legislation that helps first nations communities thrive. This process must be led by the first nations and deal with priorities that have been identified, like education for first nations children.

New Democrats do not want to tinker with the Indian Act and make any changes that would have unintended consequences. There needs to be a detailed study of changes that must be made and how that should happen, provincial law not necessarily being applicable on reserve in the case of dissent about property or an estate, as one simple example.

AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo, who had repeatedly called for the abolition of the Indian Act, criticized the unilateral approach taken by the sponsor of this bill when introducing legislation of such significance without the involvement of first nations.

In closing, the results of this unilateral approach are as predictable as they are tragic. The Auditor General says that over the years things have gotten worse and the gap in quality of life is widening. We must have genuine consultation.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to conclude the debate today.

It is my privilege to conclude debate on this piece of legislation. I have known the hon. member who proposed the legislation since he first ran in the byelection. I had the privilege of campaigning with him as we went from town to town. In fact, in one town there was a five-finger discount done to the gasoline in his truck and we ran out of fuel. We got to talk to some of his constituents at the gas station, instead of at the door, as we tried to make it around. I have known this hon. member since before he got here.

One of the things I have most appreciated about him is his passion for his people, for the people of his constituency, for the people who have been a part of his life. I also appreciate that in the legislation he has taken his real-life personal experiences and is using them to craft the legislation.

We often are called upon to debate legislation in the House that we do not necessarily have a very intimate or personal stake in. However, sometimes we do, and for this member that is one of the reasons he brought the legislation forward. It is one of the reasons why the legislation is of the quality it is and would do the things it sets out, because it comes out of his own real-life experience. For that I want to congratulate him. This is totally and truly a private member's piece of legislation. I know, as we talked about this before he even proposed it to the House. I want to congratulate the member for doing something that is substantive, that would affect the people of his constituency and that would make life better for all Canadians who will be affected by this in one way or another.

As has been noted by other members of the House, virtually every aspect of life on a first nation reserve is controlled by the Indian Act. We in the western world and increasingly the entire world understand that free markets, free enterprise, the right to property, those very basic fundamental things contribute to wealth and well-being. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that when a government, through regulation, legislation and bureaucracy, controls those aspects of peoples' lives, they will not be able to have the prosperity that has been enjoyed by all Canadians.

Therefore, the Indian Act is a barrier to the economic development of first nations, and not just the economic development but the whole development of the broader society, the development of individuals and the development of families. As we have proven in Canada and in other nations around the world, fundamental liberties and principles allow people to grow, prosper and become what they want to be without the overbearing hands of the state.

The private member's bill from the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River would remove segments of the Indian Act that prevent first nations from selling items produced on their own land. Think about this, members who were here through the Wheat Board debate would often find it funny, strange or unusual that farmers could go to jail for selling wheat. Every piece of produce, everything that they grow, they are not free to sell from their own farmland. If people have vegetable farms, wheat farms or if they produce cattle, those farmers are not in complete control of their own property. That seems completely unreasonable to anyone who has been involved in business, anyone who has had a house or anyone else in Canadian society. However, that is actually a part of the Indian Act. This unreasonable statute or regulation needs to be put away and taken care of.

People will note that this element of the Indian Act is not often enforced, but it is still there. As the member pointed out in his speech and as other members stated, there are multiple illustrations of these sorts of archaic items that should never have been there in the first place, not in the past, present or future, but are still in the Indian Act. These archaic clauses in the Indian Act can be enforced. It is an active piece of legislation and it can be used selectively at the discretion of the agents of the minister.

As we all know, legislation that is on the books and is not being enforced should either be enforced or removed from law. It serves no purpose.

In my opinion, and in the opinion of many people in the House and of many persons in the first nations community, we have entered into a new era of co-operation between first nations and the government. The member who proposed this legislation is one of those examples. He comes from a riding that is approximately half first nations in population.

First nations people of Canada do not want to be excluded from entering into our modern economy. They do not want to be held back through government legislation. They do not want to be held back from free enterprise, from the ability to make, with their own hands, prosperity with their own property and livelihoods. Prominent chiefs in the first nations communities have expressed their desire to increase their participation in the Canadian economy, and ultimately, in the international economic sphere.

By restricting trade and opportunity for first nations, we are perpetuating an antiquated 19th century mentality. Even in the 19th century, many people understood that this was wrong. Unfortunately, not enough of them stood up to stop this legislation when it was first introduced.

We have an ancient mentality that government knows best. It is a medieval idea that if we have a king who is all knowing and all wise, we cannot permit freedom. It is freedom that ultimately brings prosperity, and it is freedom that has been denied the aboriginal people through large elements of the Indian Act.

Eliminating this law from the books removes the possibility of its injudicious application. The law itself is an example of bigotry. The people who voted for it may not have intended that, but that is ultimately the result in that it exempts one specific ethnic group from the rights all other Canadians enjoy. This is something people need to actually understand.

The previous member for my riding of Saskatoon—Humboldt had a major interest in this issue. He was very good at cursing the darkness without always offering a candle to light the way. He used to criticize and go after the Indian Act, because, he said, it brings special privileges, special rights, and more benefits to the people who are under it. What I always wanted to ask him, but never got around to, was how having more government interference in one's life actually helps. If it was such a benefit and something that was so positive, we would have seen those results. Frankly, as every Canadian knows, we have not.

Being under the Indian Act is not something that has helped our first nations communities develop, be it economically, socially, or culturally. Therefore, the discrimination of this act and the way it prevents people from enjoying their freedom needs to be repealed.

First nations residents are unable to own their own land. This hinders the ability to obtain loans and capital with which to build homes or improve property. As was noted earlier, they cannot sell produce they have grown themselves.

The time to allow first nations members the ability to generate wealth and prosperity by furnishing them with the rights every other Canadian has taken for granted is long past due.

By giving first nations real control over the use of their own lands, we can open the door to economic development and renewal. By paving the way to a more modern Indian Act, we also pave the way to more modern first nations who could fully participate in the Canadian economy without a multitude of crippling restrictions. I close today with these general points.

I wish to thank the member for bringing this issue to the House. I will be supporting it, because it is good for all Canadians, first nations and non-first nations alike.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 2:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, October 28 at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)