Mr. Speaker, I can assure members that I am somewhat familiar with the report. One of the things we should start off with is a letter that was provided to the committee chair. I know there are some nervous Nellies in the New Democratic fold, so I will cite some specifics coming from a letter that was addressed to the committee. It is on an important issue dealing with wills and estates, which is the name of the report itself, and I ask that members be patient because it is a somewhat lengthy letter, but it is something that is important to share at this time.
It is important to recognize that the Government of Canada would like to thank the members of the standing committee, which is a general acknowledgement, for its study on the report entitled “Wills and Estates”, tabled on May 30. That is when it was brought forward to the minister, which was months ago. The report identifies a number of key issues and challenges that were raised by a number of witnesses. I understand there were about seven witnesses, give or take, who actually made presentations at committee.
I am sorry to disappoint the member; he seems very eager to stand.
The committee met to discuss the issue through to April 29, so it has been a long time of waiting before we have come to the stage of concurrence, where we are today. I suspect if history has anything to do with what is going on, it will likely happen here after I have finished providing some comments. No doubt I will be the only speaker, in all likelihood, but I do not want to limit. In fact I would encourage others to participate, especially if they are moving that the report be concurred in. Members might really want to consider contributing to the debate.
The government states, through the chair, that it is trying to build capacity and autonomy for first nations to improve well-being and provide first nations with self-determination, such as the expansion of the First Nations Land Management Act, the Yale First Nation Final Agreement Act, and the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Governance Act, which have recently received royal assent.
We need to recognize that the issue of our first nations people is something that has been a challenge for the government to ensure fair representation in terms of what their interests and their will would be and how effective the government is in working with our first nation communities. We have found the government to be very lacking, to be honest. There is a lot more that the government could be doing in terms of working with our first nations to build a consensus, as opposed to what has been a typical style of the government in dealing with our first nation issues, which is to act as opposed to work with our first nation leadership.
Over many years, as a parliamentarian, I have been afforded the opportunity of visiting reserves and just having caucus discussions and meetings with many different first nation leaders and aboriginal communities. I think we are selling them short. The government is missing a real opportunity to make a very strong, tangible difference in not working with the leadership and trying to build a consensus. That is something on which I would challenge the government to move toward.
At the end if the day, if we want to try to have more harmony, if we want to try to make a difference, it is very important that we start co-operating with our first nations leadership. When we talk about wills and estates and in particular this report, it has been pointed out, whether directly or indirectly, that there are many needs out there and there is a general feeling that consultation is something that has not been taking place.
We look to the government to try, in good faith, to make a difference. One of the ways it can make a difference is to start working with the many different strong personalities within our first nations and aboriginal communities.
In the letter addressed to us, we find that the government acknowledges that the land is often the most valuable asset in an estate, and through the enactment of other recent legislation, the government has taken steps to improve conditions for individuals on reserves affected by wills and estates—for example, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, which will be fully enforced on December 16. It is happening very quickly. This seeks to provide basic rights and protections to individuals on reserves, including upon the death of a spouse or common-law partner, regarding the family home and other matrimonial interests or rights. It would also enable first nations to develop their own matrimonial real property law, subject to ratification by their members.
Members of the House will be very much aware of the Liberal Party. I almost said “official opposition” and at times we feel as if we are the only opposition inside the House.