House of Commons Hansard #270 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was indian.


First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, although I found it a little difficult to understand the member opposite, I must say that Bill S-6, which we are currently debating, clearly responds to the concerns raised by band chiefs, councillors and residents of reserves.

It is a way to make band elections democratic and to give responsibility to first nations peoples, rather than having the minister remain in charge. The people living on first nations reserves, not the minister, will make the decisions.

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

London North Centre Ontario


Susan Truppe ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, the Indian Act election system contains several weaknesses that contribute significantly to unstable first nations governments. Among these principal weaknesses is the two-year term of office. The short period of time simply does not allow first nations to plan and implement important long-term projects for the benefit of their members. In many cases, when an election is held and the leadership changes, progress can be set back. This instability does not make first nations attractive for long-term investment.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague why it is so necessary for Bill S-6 to go through right now.

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, many members of the House have sat here through three minority governments, where admittedly we were in a constant state of electioneering. That is not the proper way to do long-term planning. Some of us have had municipal experience. We do better long-term planning on longer cycles. Here we have a four-year cycle. The provinces have four-year cycles. Most municipalities in the country have four-year cycles, certainly Ontario and Quebec do. Better work is done that way. This is a tool that would allow band councils to do the very same.

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if I heard the member correctly. He said that this legislation would effectively take the minister out of the picture. From what I understand from paragraphs 3 (1)(a) and (1)(b) the minister would be still in the picture. It still has the paternalistic and colonial role for the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.

I am not sure if I understood it correctly. Is the member supporting what the Assembly of First Nations asked the Senate to do, and that is to take paragraphs 3(1)(a) and (b) out of the bill? Is that what the member was getting at?

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is probably paragraph (c).

We have two choices here: the paternalistic Indian Act, or Bill S-2 that includes more transparency, more accountability and a better chance for Indian band councils to do long-term planning on their own terms. That is what we are doing here.

If those members want to go to the bad old ways of the Indian Act, good for them. That is why the people of Canada, in their own wisdom, have chosen members on this side to be government.

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to make my remarks following the member for Ottawa—Orléans, a very distinguished member of the House and the finest member Ottawa—Orléans has seen in the history of our great country.

It is a great pleasure for me to speak today in support of Bill S-6, the first nations elections act. Everyone agrees that the Indian Act is an outdated paternalistic piece of legislation that is holding back first nation communities from achieving their full potential.

By way of history, the Indian Act was first introduced in 1876, some 137 years ago. While it has undergone several amendments and reforms, the act, including the provisions related to elections, has remained largely untouched since 1951. More than just being restrictive and paternalistic, the Indian Act undermines the ability of first nations to manage their own affairs, whether we talk about elections or pursuing economic development opportunities. This outdated act puts up roadblocks at almost every turn as first nations strive to achieve greater self-sufficiency.

Yet, still today, in the year 2013, the vast majority of Canada's 633 first nations communities continue to be governed by this colonial act. As a result, it continues to pervade almost every aspect of life for first nations communities, from Indian status, land resources, wills and education, to band administration and so on.

That is why legislative initiatives over the years have focused on addressing the many shortcomings of the outdated Indian Act. Our government is determined to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of the success of first nations. Rather than trying to manage their lives through the antiquated Indian Act, our government believes we need to provide first nations with the modern tools they need to get out from under this act in order to shape a better future for themselves and their children.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of governance. As my House colleagues will agree, good governance is the foundation of any stable self-sufficient community, whether a first nation or any other jurisdiction.

Bill S-6 would provide first nations with the option to circumvent the limitations of the Indian Act that govern elections on reserve. It would provide first nations looking for an alternative to the current election system with a new option that would create a consistent, reliable framework that communities can use to elect strong, stable and effective governments. The bill makes it possible for first nation communities that opt in to take advantage of its provisions to hold fair elections that would lead to transparent and accountable governments.

There are currently 238 first nations that hold their elections under the Indian Act. The other first nations have either established a custom community code or govern themselves under a self-government agreement that sets out their own leadership selection system.

Unfortunately, due to varying capacity, not all of these options are currently available to all first nations. What is more, sometimes none of these options suit the needs of a particular first nation community. In fact, that point was made in the course of testimony before the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. It is further reinforced by the fact that about two first nations a year convert from the Indian Act election system to a community election code. In the Atlantic region, not a single first nation has converted from the Indian Act electoral system in over 10 years.

Even more telling, frustrated first nations in several regions took it upon themselves to force change. There are two organizations that deserve special recognition and praise for making Bill S-6 a reality, and they are the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs.

This legislation before us today reflects the ideas and improvements brought forward by the two regional first nations organizations that worked together on this important initiative. In fact, before developing this legislation, first nations all across the country had a chance to have their say about what is wrong with the current system and what is required to make it right.

Now I would like to explain how governance will improve in communities that choose to adopt the first nations election act. I want to stress the word “choose”, as this legislation would be entirely optional.

However, before I list its many advantages, it is essential to review the major complaints regarding the current Indian Act electoral regime and what first nations leaders and residents have told us needs to be fixed.

At the top of the list is the current requirement to have elections every two years. This hinders first nations chiefs and councillors from carrying out long-term projects. It also gives them very little time to work with partners and investors who take advantage of job-creation possibilities to improve the lives of their residents. Instead of pursuing such promising opportunities, most chiefs and councillors must start planning for the next election almost as soon as they have won at the ballot box.

That is not the only problem. The existing mail-in ballot system is also open to abuse and the current system's questionable nomination process enables candidates who are neither dedicated to running nor serious about serving to put their names on the ballot.

The challenges do not end there. Without defined offences and penalties, it is nearly impossible to prosecute corrupt practices and, if corrupt, illegal or abusive acts are alleged, federal officials must oversee a lengthy appeals process. No wonder the Atlantic and Manitoba chiefs are fed up.

Those first nations that adopt Bill S-6 will no longer need to tolerate such situations. This legislation would offer them a much better alternative. It would provide first nations with a choice of new tools to use if their communities decided they wanted to adopt them as a more responsive to their needs.

This is a modern law, more in step with the times. It is legislation for the 21st century, not the 1950s.

To address one of the most frequent complaints raised in first nations communities all across the country, the proposed first nations elections act will permit chiefs and councillors to be elected to office for four years. Band councils will be able to get beyond electoral gridlock and undertake multi-year planning to improve the lives of their citizens. A longer term will empower first nations leaders to lay the groundwork for the community to become opportunity ready, with stable, efficient and predictable investment climates that are attractive to businesses and investors.

Another big improvement in Bill S-6 provides that it will encourage more serious and dedicated leaders because of a more stringent nomination process. First nations can impose a fee of up to $250 to eliminate frivolous and uninterested candidates and they can require written acceptances from candidates to remove people with no desire to run for office from the ballot. It will also ensure that no individual will be a candidate for more than one office at the same election. What this means is that there will be much less chance of corrupt election practices in communities that adopt Bill S-6.

Some of the most important provisions of this bill relate to new offences and penalties, something which does not exist under the Indian Act election regime. This legislation outlines specific offences and ties penalties to each. Under the provisions contained within Bill S-6, first nations authorities could lay charges for illegal activity in connection with first nations elections. Moreover, they would have the backing of the courts to impose fines and jail sentences of those convicted.

Bill S-6 reflects our government's commitment to work with first nations to develop an alternative to the outdated Indian Act elections system to strengthen band elections. If first nations are convinced this is the right way to go, parliamentarians should follow their lead.

I therefore encourage all parliamentarians to support Bill S-6 so first nations can look forward to the 21st century with greater confidence.

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will ask the same question that I asked the colleague from Ottawa—Orléans because I did not really get a clear answer from that member.

Is his government considering taking the Assembly of First Nations' advice to remove clause 3, paragraphs (b) and (c), from the current law in order to take the role that is given to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and remove it and stop the colonial and paternalistic elements that have existed since the foundation of our country and the beginning of the Indian Act? Will the government consider taking out clause 3, paragraphs (b) and (c), yes or no?

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what we are doing. We are giving first nations communities the option of adopting Bill S-6 and getting out from under this old relic of the Indian Act. We are giving them accountability and transparency and we are providing them with the tools they need to create a modern community that will attract the investment and business that will create jobs within their communities.

We consulted widely on this bill. The Senate found that the Atlantic and Manitoba chiefs were fed up with the current Indian Act electoral system. That is why many residents on reserves are in favour of Bill S-6.

This is why I encourage all members in the House to not to keep the current paternalistic system, which is a relic and a dinosaur, and support Bill S-6 so we can give first nations the dignity they need to prosper in our great country.

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12:45 p.m.


Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his incredible interest in this. This is obviously dear to him.

The Indian Act, when it was created, seemed to be an electoral anomaly. What it seems to do, instead of empowering first nations to hold their government to account, it places this responsibility in the hands of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. This seems a bit backward.

Could the member describe what procedures would be the bill to help alleviate that issue?

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, in addition to providing transparency and accountability, Bill S-6 would do something that would be more important. It would give first nations communities hope that they could take advantage of the great opportunity we have in our great country.

One of my favourite responsibilities as a member of Parliament, and I know this relates to a lot of members, is going to new citizenship swearing-in ceremonies and seeing new citizens who are coming to the country to escape persecution and despair. They are coming for the great opportunity the country offers, both for themselves and for their children. What we need to do is not only say that people from other countries who come to Canada can have hope and opportunity, but the people and first nations of our country can live here with great dignity, hope and opportunity.

Bill S-6 would do that.

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12:45 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in opposition to Bill S-6, yet another bill that the Conservative government is putting forward about which first nations have a great deal of concern. Certainly he NDP believes it is a serious matter and that first nations voices, like on any issue that pertains to them directly or indirectly, must be heard.

I rise to speak to the bill on a very important week, a very important anniversary for first nations in Canada. Five years ago, the Prime Minister rose in the House of Commons and apologized to residential school survivors, their families and their communities and he committed to a new relationship. He committed to a new beginning in the Crown-first nations relationship. Fast forward five years later, and not only have we not seen a new relationship, we have seen the government continue to impose legislation after legislation that flies in the face of that commitment.

Bill S-6, like bills that have gone forward, misses out on the critical piece, and that is first nations consultation. What first nations raise in terms of concerns must be reflected in the bill.

We have a case now with Bill S-6 where the government is applying rhetoric regarding empowerment, the importance of fair elections and stability in first nations, concepts which are very worthwhile and sound great. However, when we scratch the surface and start looking at what was said in the Senate when the bill was being discussed and when we start hearing directly from first nations and first nations leadership, we realize the bill is not about empowerment and it does not provide the kind of stability that first nations need when they come to their electoral system.

The NDP believes strongly that as a result, the bill cannot be supported. The government must go back to the table with first nations and listen to the very concrete concerns they have raised directly with members of the government. As we know, this has been debated in the Senate and changes must be reflected in a bill that purports to deal with making first nations elections fairer to allow greater stability in the community.

The bill establishes rules for elections, apart from the Indian Act. These include an election cycle longer than two years, the ability to have a common election date, elements that have been raised by first nations and need to be addressed. We agree with the need to address these issues, but we share the serious concern that first nations have brought forward, and that is Bill S-6 gives the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development the power to order a first nation with community designed elections to adhere to the new regime.

We want to see first nations' elections improve, but this is basically tinkering around the edges of the Indian Act and does not address the extensive powers of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development over the right of bands to determine their own future.

In making that statement, it is very much founded on a critical concept. We have a federal government that has committed to the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights, yet putting forward Bill S-6 very much disrespects that commitment. I quote from article 18 in the UN declaration which states:

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.

Unfortunately, when we turn to the legislative summary of this bill, it indicates that:

First Nations may choose to opt in to the new elections regime proposed under the legislation, or they may be brought under the new elections regime by ministerial order in some circumstances.

We in the NDP stand with first nations in expressing our complete and utter opposition to this very point, a point that challenges the commitment that the government and our country made to the UN declaration of indigenous rights. It flies in the face of the promise the Prime Minister made of a new beginning and a new relationship.

According to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 240 first nations hold elections pursuant to the Indian Act, 341 first nations conduct custom or community-based elections rather than elections under the Indian Act, and 36 first nations select their leaders according to their self-government agreements.

We have heard real concern expressed from many first nations about the short term of office for first nations leadership positions, and I certainly know this from the first nations that I represent. We agree with first nations in saying that the two-year term of office imposed on first nations by the Indian Act is too short to provide political and economic stability, often creating deep divisions in communities.

I have had the chance to get to know many chiefs and councillors across northern Manitoba who have struggled when that has been the case in their communities. They have brought forward ideas, a visionary approach to governing their community that perhaps differs from the approach of leaders who have come before them, but two years is not enough time to make changes and get the community on the path that they would like it go down based on the support of their community members. We agree with first nations in saying that the two-year timeline must be removed.

I would like to note that we also agree with the substantive concerns with the Indian Act elections that relate to the degree of ministerial intervention, the lack of an adequate and autonomous appeals process and the absence of flexibility to set the terms of office and determine the size of councils.

We believe it is extremely problematic and, frankly, reeks of colonialism that the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development would be able to interfere through ministerial order, as is clearly stated in this bill, in elections on first nations.

I would like to refer back to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and some of the recommendations they made back in 1996. The Senate committee on aboriginal peoples said:

With respect to elections, a key proposal was to develop community leadership selection systems and remove the application of the Indian Act as a preliminary measure to re-establishing traditional forms of leadership. To accomplish this, the following steps were suggested: community level development of custom codes; community development of local dispute resolution procedures; regional first nations capacity and advisory bodies.

Again, some of the elements that were recommended back in 1996 are not present or appropriately resourced under the current legislation.

We have referenced a sticking point under subclause 3(1), which states that “The Minister may, by order, add the name of a First Nation to the schedule...” of first nations participating in the new election system.

The other problem with this legislation is the regulations in clause 41. The clause provides for the Governor in Council to have broad and general powers to make regulations with respect to elections.

We have had the chance to hear from many leaders and people involved in aboriginal governance who have expressed their opposition to the current iteration of Bill S-6, and I would like to read into the record their voices.

Before I do that, I want to also acknowledge that we have seen a very problematic pattern by the government in bringing in closure on debate regarding first nations bills. We saw it with Bill S-2 and we saw it with bills that came forward prior to Bill S-2.

For us in the NDP, it is absolutely fundamental that first nations voices be heard in committee in order to best shape legislation or to give us the opportunity to challenge legislation on their behalf.

Unfortunately, my experience has been that the Conservative government has done everything in its power to muzzle the voices of first nations and to silence them when it comes to speaking out on bills that have everything to do with their communities. That is unacceptable, and it once again reflects the colonial approach that we have seen from the current government time and time again.

Having said that, I would like to read into the record some of the messages we have heard from first nations people when the bill was at the Senate committee.

I would like to start with a quote from the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Derek Nepinak. He said:

This proposal does not fulfill the recommendations put forth by the AMC. It appears to be an attempt by the Minister to expand governmental jurisdiction and control the First Nations electoral processes that are created pursuant to the Indian Act or custom code. I am hopeful that Canada will engage in meaningful consultation with First Nations in Manitoba in order to fix some of the problems, instead of unilaterally imposing a statutory framework that will greatly affect the rights of First Nations.

There are a number of key messages here, including the reference to the need for meaningful consultation. He acknowledges that there are problems, and that one of those problems is the unilateral imposition of this framework that would greatly affect first nations.

I would also like to quote Jody Wilson-Raybould, the B.C. Regional Chief from the Assembly of First Nations. She spoke to the problems with clause 3. She said:

These provisions essentially give the minister the ability to impose core governance rules on a First Nation, which, if ever used, would be resented by that First Nation, would not be seen as legitimate in the eyes of that nation, and would probably add fuel to an already burning fire.

Ultimately, each nation must, and will, take responsibility for its own governance, including elections.

Tammy Cook-Searson, Chief of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, noted:

My main objection to this bill is the lack of positive change from the old Indian Act. Neither the Indian Act nor Bill S-6 incorporate the constitutional principles of the inherent right to self-determination and governance. The authority in this bill remains with the cabinet and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada instead of moving towards a greater responsibility with First Nations for our governance.

Aimée E. Craft, chair of the national aboriginal law section of the Canadian Bar Association, came to the Senate committee on February 29 and presented, saying:

[D]ealing with the level of ministerial discretion to include First Nations in the schedule of participating First Nations, this changes the opt-in nature of the legislation. It continues minister discretion to exercise control over First Nations governance and it would result in some First Nations being subjects of the act rather than participants. In addition, the bill lacks clarity as to the standard that the minister will apply in making determinations about what constitutes a protracted leadership dispute that has significantly compromised the governance of a First Nation.

These are first nations leaders, and Aimée Craft is a specialist when it comes to the legal aspect of the bill. They all express serious concern about a number of points in Bill S-6.

It was also noted that:

Ultimately, how attractive this legislation will be to any First Nation will depend greatly on what is, or what is not included or provided for within the Regulations. However, it should be kept in mind that Regulations are designed and intended to be amended easily and quickly. Therefore, while a First Nation may opt into the First Nations Elections Act on the basis of what it considers to be attractive Regulations, there is no guarantee that the Governor in Council will not change those Regulations to something that a First Nation may find less appealing.

There are a number of concerns. What I find extremely problematic here is the Conservative government's continued approach in imposing legislation and refraining to hear from first nations on very serious matters that have everything to do with their capacity to be self-determining for their own people, yet the Conservatives turn around and use broad-sounding language that may sound great to a lot of Canadians but that certainly hides the true facts.

I think of the first nations that I have the honour of representing and the kinds of challenges that I have heard from people when it comes to their election systems and the barriers they face when it comes to the Indian Act.

I know that the Conservative government has also jumped on the bandwagon of critiquing the Indian Act, yet it is ironic that so many first nations point to the Indian Act as being a colonial tool that oppresses first nations further.

Is imposing legislation on first nations not a sign of further oppression? Is that not a sign of that spirit of the Indian Act that sets out to impose systems and attitudes from the outside upon first nations?

The imposition of legislation without proper consultation, without heeding the calls for changes to this legislation, speaks to the attitude that the federal government somehow knows better than first nations, that somehow it can intervene and fix what is happening.

If there is anything that we have learned from history, it is that such an attitude will not get us anywhere, that it will further marginalize and disempower first nations. That is something I hope would cause some real concern among government members and would cause them to think twice about what they are doing on bill after bill.

Many government members, as was evident in the debate around Bill S-2, represent first nations. What are they hearing from their members? There are repeated messages of repealing the Indian Act and putting an end to the kind of oppression that has been imposed by a history of federal governments, by the Crown, but this is not the answer.

First nations must be at the centre of the future that they carve out for their communities. First nations must be at the forefront. The issues of governance and elections are fundamental to first nations' capacity to determine their own future. Instead of imposing legislation, the Conservative government ought to sit down with first nations and make changes that reflect their needs and their voices.

Unfortunately, we have not seen that kind of attitude from the federal government. Instead we see a continued attack against first nations in bill after bill. These bills fly in the face of respecting first nations' treaty and aboriginal rights and they fly in the face of the UN declaration on indigenous peoples. They disregard the serious concerns that first nations are bringing forward as they demand that the federal government step up and take leadership.

On the issue of elections, I have heard a lot of concern from first nations that they simply do not have the capacity to put forward the kind of governance plan that they would like. That lack of capacity is fundamentally tied to the lack of funding and the cutbacks that we have seen by the federal government, building on cuts by previous Liberal governments when they froze funding to first nations at 2%. Now we are seeing cuts to advocacy organizations that also are involved with service delivery in education, training, housing and health.

First nations have always extended a hand out. They want to work with the government. They want to make change in their communities. We in the NDP are proud to stand with them in opposition to Bill S-6. We call on the government to change course and truly begin a new relationship with first nations people in this country.

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba


Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Churchill for her comments. Churchill is certainly a beautiful part of the world. I have had good fortune to work in the mining industry in that riding along with many first nation individuals.

I am disappointed, though, in the tone of the remarks and the accusations made that are not based in fact. In fact, this government is comprised of many people of aboriginal background. They are helping in cabinet and in committees, all voting in favour of the improvement we are talking about today. There is a perception and reality that many first nations, not all but many, are male-dominated and that there is a problem with the election system. We are trying to at least improve that.

If we look at our bill on matrimonial rights to give moms and children the same rights as every other Canadian, the NDP voted against it and used the same kind of rhetoric on that bill. The NDP is ideologically opposed to any kind of change. It is for the status quo. We are trying to empower first nations.

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1:05 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly want to thank my colleague for his compliments on the beauty of my constituency and northern Manitoba. It is indeed true.

However, I will respectfully disagree with the rest of his comments. I find that the status quo, if that is what we are talking about, is a colonial paternalistic approach that the government has taken on bill after bill. I had the chance to speak, along with first nations, against Bill S-2 on matrimonial property rights. We are hearing some of same themes here. First nations are not being heard and their concerns are not being taken into consideration, and the government continues to impose this bill. That is the status quo that first nations have seen from the Conservative government and the Liberal government before that, for far too long.

If anything, there is a chance now for the government to listen to first nations, to step up. There is a chance to take the leadership that is required to work with first nations and make real changes when it comes to repealing the oppressive nature of the Indian Act. They can truly work with first nations who want to make a difference for their communities and want to build a better future. That is what New Democrats are calling for.

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1:10 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Churchill is bang on. Her comments certainly reflected all of the testimony that was given at the Senate level on this bill, and certainly reflect the input I am getting from Alberta first nations.

I spoke just a half an hour ago with representatives from the Treaty 8 First Nations, and they are 100% against this bill. They are particularly concerned with the provisions of paragraphs 3(1)(b) and 3(1)(c). All those provisions do is to repeat what is already in the Indian Act and make it clear where the minister of the Crown can interfere with the self-realization and determination by first nations.

The government says it consulted, but it does not seem to understand the constitutional obligation, which is to consult, consider and accommodate. Clearly in this situation it did reach out to Treaty 8 First Nations, but it has refused to listen to their views, which were simply to provide the capacity-building for the customary elections. They would like to have assistance in adding appeal procedures in their customary procedures. The majority of Treaty 8 first nations go by customary procedures. They would welcome some assistance in building capacity so they can have fair and open elections run by first nations.

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1:10 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, the words from the member on behalf of the Treaty 8 First Nations and first nations from Alberta are critical to this debate.

We have a recurrent theme here. There are first nations from across the country that are opposing bills that the government is putting forward by raising specific concerns, and still the government is unwilling to listen to first nations. If the government wanted to make a difference, it would listen to first nations when it comes to the need to invest in capacity-building. It would respect first nations who see the customary band election system as appropriate for them, and it would respect the fundamental notion that first nations know best what they need for their own people.

The current government's approach has been to do what first nations have come to expect from federal governments. Unfortunately, in the last few months we have seen a great zeal from the government for imposing legislation on first nations, to silence their voices, to stop debate from happening so their voices could not be heard. We risk having legislation that would further marginalize first nations, further disempower them, and that would break down the kind of enthusiasm and interest that first nations have to make a difference for their communities, for their regions, and fundamentally for our country.

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1:10 p.m.


Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, according to the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Derek Nepinak, the proposal does not fulfill the recommendations of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. It appears to be an attempt by the minister to expand governmental jurisdiction and control over first nations electoral processes that are created pursuant to the Indian Act or custom code.

Does the member for Churchill not agree that this bill sidesteps a true democratic process by imposing a statutory framework that will violate the rights of first nations?

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1:10 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely thank my colleague for her question.

I absolutely agree with her point, which was raised by the grand chief of the Manitoba first nations. This approach really reflects a colonialist attitude in that it seeks to silence first nations, rather than listen to them. First nations came before the Senate to express their objections and the reasons for their opposition. Their representations involved key points in the bill. Despite this, the government decided to go ahead without listening to these first nations or making any amendments.

This kind of attitude and this bill, if passed, would further marginalize first nations across Canada who want to make changes and turn their communities around. Unfortunately, these efforts are being blocked by the federal government.

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1:15 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.


Cathy McLeod ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, the member for Churchill is suggesting that the NDP is opposing this bill because of legislation that would provide a minister with the power to bring first nations into the first nations elections act in the event of a protracted leadership dispute that has significantly compromised the governance of the first nation after reasonable efforts have been made to reach a community-based solution.

These are very rare and extenuating circumstances. In fact, it has only been used once since our government came into power in 2006, and two times before that under the previous Liberal government.

The fact is that the minister has the power to bring first nations under the Indian Act in such a protracted situation. However, this is exactly what we are trying to move away from. The legislation would provide the minister with the necessary power to order a new election under Bill S-6.

The NDP is saying, “No. Let's give them the option to be brought under the Indian Act”. To me this is paternalistic on the part of the NDP.

Why would the member not want first nations to have the same options in these serious and extenuating circumstances?

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1:15 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would encourage the member across the way to read the submissions made by first nations leaders from across Canada, when this bill was before committee, and to consider the very serious concerns they brought forward with regard to the very issue the member raised.

We in the NDP believe that Bill S-6 does not, and must have, in any effort to work with first nations to make sure that their elections are more fair, provisions for internal appeal mechanisms. We are very concerned that first nations would be forced to go through the court system to be able to appeal any sort of irregularities or issues that may have come up in elections.

The Conservative government will know very well, as a result of many of its members' election woes, how long it takes to deal with election irregularities that have come up. In terms of expenses and practices, whether it is robocalls or election expenditures, the reality is we do not want first nations to have to go through those kinds of systems when inclusion for an internal appeal mechanism could be easily done.

First nations have raised this. The government, unfortunately, continues to ignore this very serious demand. We believe that the bill, which refuses to heed the concerns raised by first nations, will further marginalize and further oppress first nations people in Canada. We cannot stand for that.

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta


Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time.

When we come to this place as elected officials, we come with a background in whatever fields we have been working in throughout our careers. We come with the experience of the people we have worked with. When we arrive here, it really strikes us how great the depth of experience is in things that we have not been exposed to at certain levels in our previous life experiences.

The reason I am giving this preamble is that one of the things in which I have a keen interest is first nations relations in this country. It is something that a lot of Canadians should pay attention to and should look at, because first nations communities play a vital role in our country in so many ways. They have issues that we as legislators need to look at very carefully and with a great degree of cultural sensitivity.

For the last couple of months I have been serving on the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women with some of my colleagues who are here in the House today. I wanted to speak to this bill, and I will speak to its contents in a minute, because of something that we started looking at in testimony last night. Women leadership in first nations communities is something that is so vitally important to a wide variety of issues. The concept of leadership in first nations communities, as I am slowly learning, takes on so many different meanings and forms.

One of the things that has to be acknowledged is that, as legislators, we should be striving to do as much as we can to empower first nations women to seek elected office within their communities. Where there are barriers that we can seek to remove, we should be trying to do that. When we talk to members of various organizations, such as first nations advocacy groups and others, they will acknowledge that women play a special role in seeking healing and solutions to problems that may be issues to first nations communities, including violence.

What has really struck me is that during my journey as a woman who has sought elected office in the federal Parliament, when we try to encourage a woman to run for office, one of the first things she will say is that it seems that the rules are not clear, or that there is a different set of rules for some people, and that she just does not have time for that. Whenever there is a perception that the rules are not clear or the rules are not right, that actually discourages women from seeking office.

This is something I am personally very passionate about and it is within this particular context that I want to speak to this bill. I believe that this bill would substantially improve the current state of affairs for first nations elections in this country by clarifying the rules and making them more sensitive to the needs of first nations communities. From what I have seen in reviewing the Senate proceedings and the Senate committee testimony, there has been a great degree of consultation with first nations communities on this particular piece of legislation.

I believe that the last time these provisions were reviewed was in the 1950s. It is now 2013.

I am supportive of this bill because it would modernize first nations electoral systems. For those first nations that wish to opt in, it would bring them in line with every other electoral system in Canada at the federal, provincial and municipal levels.

The bill was developed in direct response to calls from first nations community leaders and grassroots members who were seeking for a more rigorous and accountable election system on reserves. These first nations individuals have been openly critical of the antiquated and paternalistic election system that currently exists under the Elections Act. They have asked for improved electoral systems that address the weaknesses of the one currently dictated by the Indian Act.

This issue was first brought to our collective attention by the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. It was these two groups that took the lead in finding solutions to stabilize and improve first nations governance through a stronger and more modern election system.

With the support of our government in 2008, they began researching the issue of band council elections. After identifying flaws in the current system under the Indian Act, they discussed their findings with first nations leaders, governance technicians and community members in their respective regions.

Between January and March 2010, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs held information and engagement sessions with over 30 of the province's 37 first nations that hold their elections under the Indian Act election system. Over the same period, the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs solicited public input on election reforms through social media and articles in the Mi'kmaq-Maliseet Nations News, as well as through focus groups with subject matter experts.

The APC and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs then provided their recommendations to the department, and these recommendations were collated and consolidated into a discussion paper entitled “Improving the System for First Nations Elections”, which was jointly developed with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs.

At the request of the former minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, the two organizations conducted a national engagement process on these recommendations. Every effort was made to seek the input of community members across Canada to ensure that the final recommendations would capture the concerns of first nations citizens.

Both groups posted the discussion paper and other background materials on their websites and invited people to submit their comments or any further ideas for improvement. In addition, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs wrote to the first nations councils that hold their elections under the Indian Act to provide them with the discussion paper and to encourage them to hold discussions in their communities and provide feedback.

Leaders of the two organizations also made their presentations about the recommendations to first nations organizations across the country. Based on the feedback obtained through these various processes, the list of possible reforms was affirmed and presented to the minister. At this point, after the consultation, the drafting of Bill S-6 began.

In addition to this, in 2009, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples studied the limitations of the Indian Act election system. The committee held approximately 20 hearings in Ottawa, Manitoba and British Columbia. First nations leaders, including heads of national and provincial organizations, tribal council representatives, band managers and community members made representations and answered questions. From this testimony, the Senate committee concluded that election reform was needed. One of the recommendations in its final report was that the government work with first nations to guide legislative development in the area of elections.

First nations members have been clear. They want assurance that their leaders can be held to account through modern governance structures that reflect and respond to their needs and priorities. Bill S-6 is designed to address many of these long-standing electoral problems.

Our government is committed to ensuring that first nations have strong, accountable and transparent governments, because we all know that a strong election system that is open and transparent provides the foundation first nations require to attract investment, develop economic activities and set goals that will improve the quality of life for residents in these communities.

As a response to these recommendations provided by first nations leaders and the input of people at the local level, this proposed legislation would provide a new option for communities looking for an alternative to the Indian Act election system.

The bill would allow four-year terms. This change in term length would allow for stability within first nations communities to ensure economic growth, prosperity and stability within the election system into the future.

The bill would also create a more robust process for the nomination of candidates. It would also remove the possibility of the same individual being elected to the position of both chief and councillor.

The proposed legislation proposes penalties for offences such as obstructing the electoral process or engaging in corrupt or fraudulent actions in relation to an election, and it would give regulation-making powers with respect to mail-in ballots and advance polls.

With Bill S-6, first nation voters would have available to them an election system with the same standards and protections other Canadian voters have. The bill would also provide the option of a common election day, something some first nations have indicated they want. The proposed legislation would allow first nations governments, at their request, to hold office concurrently and have their elections on the same day. This could be very advantageous to joint undertakings involving first nations in a given region.

Particularly important, and in response to what many first nation members had to say during this process, the bill would remove the minister's role in elections. Elections appeals would be addressed by the courts, just as they are for federal, provincial and municipal elections in other jurisdictions. Having access to the court system is something that is actually positive. My colleague opposite argued that this is somehow disadvantageous to first nations communities.

While we want to make sure that any such matters are handled expeditiously, I would argue that perhaps removing this power from the minister and putting it into the court system is something that would be less paternalistic and would actually move first nations communities into alignment with other jurisdictions in this country, which have similar rights.

Bill S-6 is designed to empower first nations members, putting decision-making power into the hands of the people. It would uphold their democratic right to choose the political leadership they need and want.

I encourage my colleague opposite and colleagues in this House to review the testimony made to the Senate committee as well as some of the recommendations put forward in the documents I have referenced in my speech. There are several technical amendments this bill would provide that would make the election laws more clear, more accessible and more stable.

Going back to the start of my speech, this is positive not only for first nations communities in general. If we seek to empower first nations women to seek office, this clarity in the rules would also certainly help them in the future.

I hope everyone in the House will give this bill a good look and support it for its many merits, which are reflective of the consultation process our government undertook to develop it.

First Nations Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The hon. parliamentary secretary will have eight minutes remaining when this matter returns before the House.

The House resumed from May 31 consideration of the motion that Bill C-444, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer or public officer), be read the third time and passed.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by saying that I am very pleased to be able to speak to this bill. I will explain why in my speech. I also want to thank the hon. member for Red Deer for introducing this bill. I worked with him on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, and I know that he is a hard-working member of Parliament. I am very pleased to support his bill.

A very serious incident prompted this bill. The incident received a lot of media coverage and, obviously, led to legislative action. There could also be other situations in which incidents like this could occur. Sometimes, we do not hear about them, and that is why I want to support this bill.

In the end, this bill will improve an aspect of the Criminal Code. Under this bill, personating a peace officer or public officer for the purpose of facilitating another offence will be considered an aggravating circumstance.

The crime committed in the incident in Red Deer was sexual assault. The offender personated a police officer, which created circumstances that facilitated his crime.

I am very happy to support the bill introduced by my colleague from Red Deer because this could happen to anyone and we are hearing about it more and more.

I participated in two seniors' forums in Chambly. These forums are usually held every year in September and bring together various regional organizations to talk about issues that affect seniors. Many of the organizations talk about seniors' safety. Every year, hard-working and highly respected members of our local police force come and talk to us about how seniors are vulnerable to certain things, sometimes even to their own families.

As an MP and as a young person, a son and grandson, being aware of these issues enables me to understand all of the things that can happen.

The police officer talked about personation of public officers. This is getting to be a big problem because seniors are getting more and more calls from people pretending to be public officers. These people are asking for information and all kinds of things so they can commit fraud, theft and anything else they think they can get away with.

This is getting more dangerous in a day and age when information is more freely available than ever before. We are happy that information is so readily available, but we also have to be more careful and vigilant.

We are very happy to be updating the Criminal Code to deter criminals from engaging in personation. At least now, when a person—a senior, as in my example—answers the phone or physically sees someone pretending to be a police officer or a public officer, that person will know whether that is the case or not.

I would like to step back for a moment because this is an interesting topic. Yesterday, during debate on a time allocation motion, the Minister of Justice talked about how the NDP does not support victims or bills aimed at punishing criminals and protecting victims. This bill is a perfect example of how untrue that is. I will explain why.

I think we can say that we are very pleased that there is no minimum sentence set out in this bill. To date, the NDP has, as a matter of principle, opposed bills that propose minimum sentences because that is a drastic way of meting out justice. It shows a lack of respect for the justice system, as well as for the judges and the discretion to which they are entitled and should apply. We are very pleased that there is no minimum sentence proposed in this bill. We understand that we are talking about aggravating circumstances that facilitate the crime committed, in this case, personation.

Before speaking to this bill, I took the opportunity to look at the work done in committee by all its members, who agreed to this bill without amendment. The process was very quick.

However, in addition to the fact that the process was quick, it also went well. Witnesses were heard, and there were some good discussions. I even read testimony from the member for Red Deer, who seemed very pleased with how the process played out.

I want to use this bill as a positive example. Despite the rhetoric that comes from both sides of the House, I have hope that we can agree on issues such as victim protection, even though we may not always agree on the approach and the changes to be made to the law.

At the end of the day, despite disagreements between parliamentarians, we share the same objectives. Sometimes, the only difference is in how we achieve those objectives. In my opinion, this bill is a very good example that proves that we have Canadians' interests at heart. This time, we could agree, although that may not always be the case. This bill really is a positive example.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask the members and the government to look at what has been done. We need to realize that it is possible to work together in order to advance an agenda that will strengthen the justice system and advocate for victims. This is very doable. That is not often the case with this government's agenda and its tendency to ram legislation down our throats without considering other opinions or other ways of achieving the same objective. It is very important to have the same objective. I cannot stress that enough.

Coming back to the issue of personation, that is something that really scares me and that is hard to understand. It is important to build a relationship of trust with peace officers and public officials, who have very clear objectives and must deal with people on issues that are sometimes very sensitive. Needless to say, for peace officers, these are very sensitive issues indeed, since their safety is at risk any time they are called to intervene.

However, officials also have to deal with sensitive issues. They sometimes deal with financial matters, very personal issues or immigration cases. It is very worrisome that someone would claim to represent any of these authorities. If I put myself in the shoes of the young victim from Red Deer, I can understand how difficult it must be for her, her family and her friends. Furthermore, people who heard about this case now find it more difficult to trust police officers even though they work hard to protect people.

Trust is essential. In my opinion, no matter their political allegiance, parliamentarians have the responsibility to take action in order for their constituents to feel protected by these people and to feel comfortable dealing with them.

In light of my experience and what I have heard from the people in my riding of Chambly—Borduas who attended the seniors' forum, I have no qualms about supporting the bill. I would also like to congratulate my colleague from Red Deer.

I will conclude by repeating what I said in my speech. We have a perfect opportunity to show that all members of the House support victims, even though we may have differences of opinion about how to protect them. The bill can set an example by showing that we can agree from time to time. We must never forget this when debating very sensitive and important issues.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate, with his five-minute right of reply, the hon. member for Red Deer.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2013 / 1:40 p.m.


Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am humbled to rise today to wrap up this debate on Bill C-444, my private member's bill.

It is not often we get to work specifically on behalf of a constituent in such a significant way, by making a change to the Criminal Code of Canada. First and foremost, I want to thank the brave young woman and her mother who inspired me to table this bill. There are also many folks on the Hill I would like to thank for the support and encouragement they have extended to me along the way, as well as for the personal work they have put into our debates on this bill. This also includes my wonderful staff, here in Ottawa as well as back in Red Deer.

As I have said, this bill is about sentencing. It speaks to the need for tougher penalties for personating peace officers and public officers, and it is in line with the fundamental sentencing principle of proportionality, which is stated in section 718 of the Criminal Code. We must preserve the trust and respect that citizens have for police officers. When citizens see a police uniform, they trust the authority that comes with it. We are giving the tools that they need to deliver harsher sentences to criminals who breach this trust to cause harm.

Within the parameters of the maximum sentence for this particular offence, the decision of what sentences are appropriate will still rest with sentencing courts. We know that a number of factors come into play in a sentencing decision, such as the criminal record of the offender or the severity of harm caused to a victim.

Aggravating circumstances are just one more factor that sentencing judges are required to consider when the Crown is successful in a conviction. Sentencing achieves a number of results, and one of them is support for victims. The rights of victims need to be protected. They must know that there are serious consequences for criminals who have hurt them.

I extend my heartfelt condolences to any Canadian who has been a victim of someone maliciously personating a police officer to do further harm. I dedicate this work to those victims.

I thank my colleagues for their support. If I still have a moment, I would like to thank the following members for their contribution to debate: the Minister of Justice; the members of the Standing Committee on Justice for their thoughtful study and debate, and their support; the seconders, the members for Sault Ste. Marie and Oxford; the members who contributed their time in speaking here in the House, the members for Gatineau, Mount Royal, Montcalm, Brome—Missisquoi, Charlottetown, Beauport—Limoilou, British Columbia Southern Interior, Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Louis-Hébert, Nanaimo—Cowichan, Chambly—Borduas, Northumberland—Quinte West, Edmonton—St. Albert, Windsor—Tecumseh, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, as well as the Associate Minister of National Defence.

There is a special symbolism of having every member present in this House stand to show their support, not just for a bill but for victims and police officers throughout this great nation.

However, because of the uncertainty that surrounds the closing days of any session, I would be proud to use this opportunity to stand on behalf of all members and to accept unanimous consent if the House so chooses.