Mr. Speaker, I am speaking on the bill to give voice to the concerns that have been expressed to me by members of the community of Kanesatake, which is in my riding, who would be directly affected by the legislation proposed in the Conservative private member's bill, Bill C-428.
The concerns that have been raised in the bill remind us that we need to move forward and truly work on a nation-to-nation paradigm rather than through this paternalistic, piecemeal, and unilateral approach that the government has been using and continues to use in this bill.
Bill C-428 seeks to amend the Indian Act by deleting sections dealing with wills and estates, sale 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.
Like pretty well all legislation pertaining to the Indian Act put forward by the Conservative government, the bill has major flaws and does not solve the problems it wishes to address. Although it does delete some archaic provisions of the bill, other deleted sections like the provisions on wills and estates could put first nation citizens living on reserve in legal limbo because there is no guarantee that provincial legislation will cover their situation.
What is more, there was no consultation with first nations before presenting the bill, like pretty well all Conservative legislation on this issue. The overriding issue with the relationship that the Conservative government has with first nations is that of a unilateral, paternalistic one. That is to say, it does not want to wait for everyone to be in agreement; it is the government and it knows best, so it is going to go ahead and do this. This is not an approach that is respectful of what unfortunately is not legally, but should be, the status of first nations in this country.
We all know that what is at the basis of a relationship and should always be at the basis of a relationship is a nation-to-nation relationship. Bill C-428 was drafted without consultation with first nations, reinforcing this unhealthy relationship. Unfortunately, it is not surprising, as I mentioned, that the Conservatives, like the Liberals before them, acted unilaterally rather than engaging in meaningful consultation and collaboration.
I sincerely feel like I have said this many times on many bills. Unfortunately, I feel it is once again important that I state that I strongly believe that there is no greater or more urgent challenge facing us as MPs than the need to resolve the degrading relationship that Canada has with our aboriginal people.
There are clear actions that the government can, must, and could take immediately by using the UN declaration on indigenous peoples as a guide for what actions must be taken toward the sovereignty and decolonization of aboriginal people. Unfortunately, the number one thing that needs to be done in order to respect and address this is completely ignored by the Conservative government when it fails to do any kind of consultation.
At a minimum, we should expect to have a minister responsible for the file introducing a bill such as this. The Conservative tactic of using a backbencher to advance policy is a lack of leadership and demonstrates its chronic inability to move forward in the legislative process honestly and in good faith. The very fact that a government private member rather than the minister responsible is presenting the bill means that the steps that the bill would have to go through to seek legal relevance and the steps that the House would go through, such as the amount of debate that it would go through or the access that it has to information from the ministry, are all greatly relaxed. It means the bill has a lot less oversight than it would if it were presented by a minister.
Acting in this way to begin with, let alone the lack of consultation, means that it really aggravates the problems rather than solves them.
I believe, alongside my colleagues from the NDP, that we must move away from this paternalism that is in the Indian Act toward a paradigm where we have a healthy relationship with first nations, and where we are able to maintain their sovereignty and jurisdiction over their lands and businesses. The bill is a perfect example of exactly the opposite, because it is done in bad faith and lacks the extensive consultation and the nation-to-nation relationship that would be required in order for us to have a healthy relationship that moves away from the Indian Act.
In terms of wills and succession, this bill puts first nations in an area of uncertainty. In any situation not covered by provincial legislation, in addition to creating potential conflicts, the burden of this uncertainty would be placed on the shoulders of tribal councils while Conservatives continue to impose budget cuts and restrictions on these same councils. Conservatives do not seem to understand that this is the reality of what it is like in a band. There is not enough money or land, yet the bills that keep coming forward do not take into account that these are problems.
We saw the same problem with MRP legislation. It does not make any sense, because there is no extra money or land to go along with that kind of legislation. It is not actually addressing the problem in a meaningful way. The member who spoke before me said that it does not mean anything if we apologize for the residential schools and do not actually take action. Action requires money, respect, consultation, and all the things that go along with treating first nations as equal partners in the federation. We cannot just present private member bills and expect that the problem is going to start being addressed.
I have a constituent who came to speak to me who adamantly wanted me to oppose this bill. His name is Denis Gaspé, from Kanesatake. He wrote the following to me so that I could speak his words in the House today:
Consultation with the people has not been undertaken and any future attempts will be seen as suspect unless an attempt is made to include First Nations groups at the community level who have perennially rejected the notion they are subject to the Indian Act.
He is saying that we cannot change the relationship, as I was saying, in the Indian Act, without consultation. What this bill is purporting to do flies in the face of actual meaningful change.
Monsieur Gaspé's principal objection to the bill is section 10. It raises many problems for him. He stated:
...there is no identification of bylaws as separate from Band Council Resolutions. Manipulation of the publication requirement will bring more unrest.
There are a lot of concerns, and the fact that there are concerns that there has not been consultation means that we cannot move forward with this kind of legislation. We need to set aside the fact that the process we are using right now is not an appropriate one. What is in the bill is also not going to do what it purports to do.
It is long past the time that we address these issues. We need a process that is consultative, that respects UNDRIP, and that brings the nation-to-nation relationship between first nations and Canada into the 21st century.