House of Commons Hansard #54 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was qalipu.


Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Madawaska—Restigouche New Brunswick


Bernard Valcourt ConservativeMinister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

moved that Bill C-25, An Act respecting the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band Order, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to rise and speak to this important legislation that will protect the integrity of the enrolment process for membership in the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.

Before I outline some of the issues that arose during the enrolment process and explain this bill’s objectives, I want to take a moment to describe a bit of the history that led to the creation of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation and to the development of the bill we have before us today.

When Newfoundland joined Confederation back in 1949, the province faced unique issues related to the application of the Indian Act in the province. At the time, there was no agreement between the province and Canada as to if, how or when the Indian Act system would be applied.

Therefore, first nations in Newfoundland were not recognized as Indians under the Indian Act. In the absence of the Indian Act system, Canada provided ad hoc funding to the province to provide social and health programs for the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland. However, the members of that first nation were not entirely satisfied with the situation.

In 1972, the Federation of Newfoundland Indians formed, with the mandate to promote the health, social, cultural, economic, and educational well-being of the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq. Its primary goal was to obtain recognition of the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq's eligibility for registration under the Indian Act.

From 1976 to 1981, various studies were carried out and discussions took place regarding the application of the Indian Act to the Federation of Newfoundland Indians.

After initial efforts to improve relations between Canada and the majority of the Mi'kmaq communities did not result in an agreement, in 1989 the federation launched a Federal Court action against Canada seeking recognition under the Indian Act.

In 2007, the government settled this court action through an agreement in principle to create the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band as a landless band under the Indian Act and to have its members be eligible for the same federal programs available to other off-reserve registered Indians. This agreement in principle was ratified in March 2008 by 90% of the eligible members of the FNI who voted. That led to the signing of the agreement for the recognition of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq band by Canada and the FNI in June 2008.

The creation of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation was, and remains, an important step forward for the Mi'kmaq people of Newfoundland. In addition to giving members of the first nation access to certain federal programs and services, it is very important to note that first nation status provides a strong foundation for Mi'kmaq cultural growth and development. At the official signing ceremony in 2008, Chief Brendan Sheppard said:

...Mi’kmaq people are finally able to claim their birthright, and while we must not forget our history, we must look forward to the future and do the best we possibly can to develop the tremendous potential that exists among our people.

However, the establishment of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation has not been without its challenges. As set out in the 2008 agreement, there was a two-stage enrolment process, which ran from December 1, 2008 to November 30, 2012, a four-year period. The first phase, which ended on November 30, 2009, was intended to identify the founding members. The second phase provided for a 36-month process to guarantee that all those eligible would have the opportunity to apply and be added to the list of founding members.

At the end of the first stage, a Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band recognition order was issued by the governor in council on September 22, 2011 that established an Indian Act band and identified its members in a schedule. There was a recognition order, and attached to it was a schedule listing who these members were. As a result of the recognition order and three subsequent amendments made to the schedule, 23,877 individuals were listed as founding members. This number represented all those who had applied prior to November 30, 2009, the end of the first stage of the enrolment process, and who were determined, under the original process, to be eligible for founding membership as per the 2008 agreement. That made sense in light of the fact that the 2006 census revealed that there were approximately 23,450 residents of Newfoundland and Labrador who self-identified as aboriginal.

However, in the second stage, the 36 months following the first stage, we saw another approximately 70,000 applications come in. By November 30, 2012, the deadline for applying, the total number of applications had soared to more than 101,000 applicants. Roughly 46,000 of those had been submitted between September 2012 and the end of November 2012. This in itself is quite telling.

From December 1, 2008 to the end of August 2012, 46,000 applicants had not yet taken any steps in an enrolment process that had started three years and five months earlier. At the last minute, about 46,000 people decided that they were Mi'kmaq Indians in Newfoundland and that they belonged to this group.

One can imagine the surprise of the band members and everyone when the numbers came in. They were approximately 10 times the initial projection of about 8,700 to 12,000 individuals, based on membership data provided by the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, an assessment of historic census data, and other estimates.

These figures would have resulted in a single band that was equivalent to about 11% of all registered Indians in Canada. In addition, almost 70% of the more than 100,000 applicants do not reside in any of the Mi'kmaq communities targeted for recognition in this initiative. They live elsewhere in Canada.

This was not at all reflective of the original intent of the parties as set out in the 2008 agreement, which was that founding membership in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation would be granted primarily to persons living in or around the 67 Newfoundland Mi'kmaq communities named in the agreement. While individuals living outside of these communities could also become members, the intent of the parties was that non-residents would be required to have maintained a strong cultural connection with a Newfoundland Mi'kmaq community, including sustained and active involvement in that community.

There was no time, and this is another important consideration, to consider the additional applications prior to the end of the enrolment process established by the 2008 agreement, which was November 30, 2012. According to that agreement, if these applications were not processed or reviewed, it ended, so they could not be reviewed.

It was obvious to both Canada and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians that something needed to be done if the integrity of this first nation was going to be protected. At a minimum, greater clarity about eligibility was required, as the process had become unsustainable.

The Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the Government of Canada agreed to review the effectiveness of the implementation of the 2008 agreement and to look at possible solutions.

In July 2013, the president of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and I announced a supplemental agreement to address shared concerns about the integrity of the enrolment process for membership in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation.

The 2013 supplemental agreement, which we signed with the federation, protects the integrity of the first nation by ensuring that only those with a legitimate claim to membership and registration are enrolled. That is all we care about, protecting the integrity of that first nation.

At the same time, it provides for a fair process that ensures the fair and equitable treatment of all applicants in a manner that respects taxpayer dollars. More specifically, it extends the timeline to review applications, ensuring that all applications previously unprocessed will be processed, since they could not be processed under the agreement of 2008.

Second, it ensures that all applications received during all phases of the enrolment process will be assessed or reassessed, except those that were rejected. This guarantees that all applicants, no matter when they applied during the process, will be treated fairly and equitably.

Third, this supplemental agreement guaranteed that anyone whose application was reviewed would be sent a notification and that those who had submitted valid applications would be given an opportunity to provide additional documentation in support of their applications. This deadline has now passed.

In November 2013, all applicants received one of two letters. In cases where an application was invalid because it did not meet the basic requirements to be assessed, the letter advised the applicant that his or her application had been denied. About 6,000 people received that letter.

Where an application was valid, the letter advised the applicant that he or she could provide additional documentation relating to the criteria of self-identification and group acceptance by January 30, 2014. We extended that to February 10, by the way, due to extreme weather conditions in Newfoundland.

Fourth, the supplemental agreement clarifies how an application for self-identification as a member of the Mi'kmaq group of Indians of Newfoundland is assessed.

Finally, it provides guidance regarding an individual's acceptance by the Mi'kmaq group of Indians of Newfoundland. This information is particularly relevant to individuals living outside because of the group acceptance requirement in the agreement of 2008.

I want to underscore that the supplemental agreement does not change the enrolment criteria set out in section 4.1 of the 2008 agreement. The criteria remains the same. As per the 2008 agreement, the applications will be assessed by an enrolment committee, which includes two representatives from the Government of Canada, two representatives from the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, and one independent chair. The enrolment committee will conduct a comprehensive assessment or reassessment of all applications that were not previously rejected, in accordance with the criteria for membership that was originally negotiated. It is estimated that this process will take about 2.5 years, after which individuals will be informed of the results of the assessment or reassessment of their application. It is possible that some individuals may lose their Indian status as a result of this process. Those individuals would no longer have access to programs and services provided to registered Indians.

In order to implement the supplemental agreement and address our shared concern with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians regarding the integrity of the enrolment process, we will need to amend the schedule to the order that created the first nation. That is why we need Bill C-25. We are asking Parliament to enable the Governor in Council to amend the schedule of the order creating the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation that lists the names of the founding members.

To be clear, we are not asking to change the recognition order that created the Qalipu first nation. Instead, we are providing the Governor in Council with the authority to make changes to the schedule to the order which lists the names of the first nations founding members.

In addition, the legislation would prevent individuals from collecting compensation or damages from either the Government of Canada or the first nation in the event that at the end of the enrolment process they are found not to have a legitimate claim to membership and are omitted or removed from the schedule. I want to reassure the House that there will be no change in Indian status for existing members during the review process, and while it is underway individuals currently registered will retain access to programs and services. If there are some who are deemed not to be members, there would be no clawback at the end of the enrolment process for the benefits they may have received from the date they were declared members of the band.

I ask all members to think of the integrity of that first nation and also our responsibility to the taxpayers of Canada, because this is at the heart of the bill.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, as the minister said, the bill would deal with the specific aspect of the enrolment process.

However, in his introduction, he talked about the failure for an agreement to include and apply the Indian Act in Newfoundland at the time of Confederation.

In fact, the history of aboriginal people in Newfoundland since Confederation has been a history of neglect of the federal government's constitutional responsibility for aboriginal people in Canada. Access to services and programs has been denied to aboriginal people for two generations, since 1949. This is an attempt to try to reap some circumstances where the Mi'kmaq, the 65 communities that are listed in the annex, have some access to programs.

First, it is an agreement without land. The Mi'kmaq were required to give up a claim for land in order to get what they were entitled to from the Government of Canada. That is a concern. A lot of people wonder why this unique situation has been applied in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Second, there are two aspects of the 100,000 people to which the minister refers. Many of them have claims based upon ancestry, perhaps not the self-identification and acceptance that are claimed in these particular criteria that are set forth.

Would there be claims, or potential claims, extinguished by this process? Clause 4 talks about no right to sue for damages. Would that be part of extinguishing any right, or does the minister have another explanation for that?

Third, what about people who, as children—and I am aware of certain cases, as I know others are also aware—were taken from their families and adopted out of these communities, who did not have an opportunity to self-identify and have an association with the aboriginal way of life that is recognized in these treaties?

Does the Government of Canada take the view that they have no claim to aboriginal status and Indian status and it will not consider such claims in the future?

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, there are many issues that have been raised by the hon. member.

With respect to land, it was the request and demand of the Mi'kmaq first nation that a landless band be created. There was no claim to any territory along with this. The prime concern was to first be recognized as status Indians under the Indian Act. The landless band was the method agreed to in order to get there. That was the agreement in 2008.

On the issue of ancestry, the criteria for membership into the Qalipu first nation, again, was agreed to. What we are talking about is the implementation of a settlement agreement following an action that had been started by the federation, as I indicated in my main address to the House this morning. These criteria have nothing to do with blood; there was no such requirement or criteria agreed to.

What was required by way of criteria is clearly laid out. It is a question of self-identification and group acceptance for those who are living in those communities and living the cultural way of life of the Mi'kmaq. These are the criteria that were agreed to and are being applied.

On the question of damages, it does not take away the right of individuals to go to court. However, they cannot claim damages because they were omitted from the list, or were on the list and have been removed because they were determined to not be eligible. This is simply to protect the taxpayers of Canada.

I will be blunt. If individuals had obtained status under the previous order and that status has been taken away because of the process in place, they could argue that they are entitled to these benefits for the rest of their life. If they are not genuine and eligible members of that band, according to the criteria agreed to, they ought not be able to claim damages from anybody. That is why section 4 is there.

With respect to adopted children, if they had been taken away from a Mi'kmaq, of course that situation would not prevent that person from applying and being considered a member of that community, as long as the criteria are respected.

I think that answers all of the hon. member's questions.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

We have had a very lengthy exchange on that question and comment. However, the points were lengthy and needed a long response from the minister.

The hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I think the minister should make clear to the House that this is not enabling legislation for the establishment of the Qalipu band. It is an add-on piece to cover up the mistakes of the government that the Conservatives feel they made.

What needs to be clear here is that the minister made a statement that this would indemnify the government and prevent ineligible, illegitimate applicants from seeking damages; however, the courts will decide that. It is not the minister who will decide that.

The proposed legislation before us today would prevent anyone from getting reasonable access to the court system to determine whether or not the government is at fault and has erred over an eight-year process.

Let us be very clear with each other here. This is a four-clause piece of legislation. Clauses 1 and 2 are simply pro forma. However, clause 3 suggests that it would enable the government to make a revision to the Governor in Council, which establishes a schedule of membership for the Qalipu band and registry under the Indian Act.

Under the technical briefing we received yesterday from senior officials, we discovered, as we suspected all along, that the government does not need that legislative right to add to the schedule. It needs that reinforcement to delete from the schedule, because there have already been four separate additions.

Now clause 4 in the bill before us would not give immunity to anyone other than the government for its own mistakes. The Qalipu band was formed on one basis, and one basis only. The Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland had access to the courts. They filed a court challenge in 1989 and, if it were not for that, there would be no Qalipu band—

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Order. We have one minute left for the minister to respond.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Bernard Valcourt Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am not surprised to hear a Trudeau Liberal not being concerned about taxpayers and the families of Canada who have to foot the bill all the time.

When the member says that the people would be prevented from going to court, I invite him to read clause 4. It would not prevent anyone from going to court. They can go to court if they want to. They can seek a declaration about their status and whatever they want, but they will not be entitled to damages.

The reason is very simple. If one is not an eligible and rightful member of a first nation, then one ought not to be entitled to damages, to the benefits to which one would not be entitled.

This is simply about protecting the taxpayers and the integrity of that first nation.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

I am afraid that is all the time we have for questions and comments.

The hon. Chief Government Whip.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, my point of order is that we have had two questions from the opposition and no opportunity for a question from this side. The minister gave lengthy answers, but I think it was an abuse of process to allow a lengthy series of questions from the official opposition and a rant from the Liberal member but nothing from the government side.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

That is not a point of order, but an appeal of my decision to continue with the debate, which is not allowed under the rules of the procedures of this House.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for St. John's East.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that the members of the opposition will have plenty of time to debate this legislation, provided that the government calls it again. My understanding, however, is that there seems to be some interest in having this passed very quickly and without the necessary debate. As can be seen by the questions and debate with the minister so far, there is considerable interest in this question in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

While there might be interest, given the history of aboriginal matters in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to which the minister alluded and to which I alluded in my question and comment intervention, the reality is that Newfoundland's history with aboriginal peoples as a part of Canada's history and before is one that is subject to a great deal of historical debate and controversy. However, since Confederation, it has been under the legal regime of the Constitution of Canada and is the responsibility of the Government of Canada in terms of its fiduciary role with respect to aboriginal peoples and its constitutional responsibilities under section 92 of the Constitution Act.

The problem has been that aboriginal people in Newfoundland and Labrador did not get access to the same programs, services, and funding that were made available to other aboriginals in Canada. That has been a source of significant conflict and significant neglect. Historically speaking, a lot has been lost along the way in terms of advancement and the benefits to aboriginal people in Newfoundland and Labrador.

When we look at the chronology, even the one produced by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, we see huge gaps between mentioning 1949 as the time of Confederation and the next entry, some time in the 1970s, with the consideration of the Innu nation. It talks about the variety of studies and discussions regarding the application of the Indian Act to the Innu in Labrador, some 25 years later. It was initially agreed to by the Government of Canada that the Mi’kmaq of Conne River develop an application, and the recognition of the Conne River first nation was in 1984, 34 years after Confederation.

We have had a long period of neglect. I took an interest in this back in 1987, when I was first a member of Parliament, and had a paper commissioned, looking into the terms of union. The resulting paper was called Pencilled Out, because during the terms of union negotiations between the Government of Canada and the representatives of Newfoundland and Labrador, there was series of draft agreements, which included, up until the second or third versions, a provision for Indians—as they were then universally known—in Newfoundland and Labrador, but at later stages of negotiations that was all removed.

It was removed for various reasons that have been given historically. One suggestion was that they would lose the right to vote if they became recognized under the Indian Act. There were other reasons given for that historically, but the fact of the matter is that they were excluded from the benefits and provision of services, including non-medicare benefits that were available everywhere else in Canada, such as special health benefits, drug programs, important access to education, and other programs that were available throughout Canada to everyone who qualified as status Indians.

This agreement, this Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation act, is an attempt by the Mi'kmaq to retrieve or achieve something that they should have been entitled to, going back to 1949. It is imperfect because it deals with individuals who are still a part of the communities that traditionally had Mi'kmaq populations. The minister says 67, but I count 65 in the schedule, unless it has been amended. These 65 populations that are still associated would have rights under this band.

They have an enrolment process that, as is widely known, has resulted in people recognizing that at long last there will be an opportunity for the Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland and Labrador to be recognized generally for their status within Canada as aboriginal people.

The minister is quite correct. This legislation is not about the big picture. It is not about the enrolment rules as such and it is not about the qualifications.

Those agreements were made by the Federation of Newfoundland Indians on behalf of the communities and memberships in the various bands throughout Newfoundland that were associated with the Mi'kmaq people and the communities in which they resided. It was ratified by the people who participated in the vote, by some 90%, which is a fair indication that, with respect to the communities that have been identified here, there is a wide degree of acceptance as to what they hope to achieve by the creation of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band.

That part is the historical agreement that was made ultimately in 2008, with the modifications in 2013. We are talking about what the effect of this legislation would be on this process and what the effect would be on those who may be excluded by this process. We have some concerns about how this will be interpreted.

The minister commented that people would still have access to the courts but they would not be able to get damages. The member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte has a more assertive understanding of what denying people access to the courts really means. That needs to be fully explored as this legislation proceeds. We would expect significant and proper and appropriate legal representation and expertise ought to be applied to this legislation to see whether it would do anything more than prevent someone from getting retroactive damages for not being recognized then as opposed to now, or whether it would extinguish any right or prevent someone from having access to the courts.

The minister indicated that access to the courts would be retained for the purpose of a declaration, that someone in the Qalipu first nation band should be covered by the agreements and should have access to the benefits. If that is indeed the case, then we would want to have expert opinion on that from people with knowledge of the law and knowledge of agreements like this and how similar types of legislation treat this. Are some special rules being created here to prevent individuals who may be wrongfully excluded from the band to get a proper adjudication from the court for getting the redress they need? I would certainly want to have clarification of that.

With respect to the issue of enrolment itself, this legislation would not change the criteria for enrolment. The application of the criteria and the documentation necessary and the process to be undertaken to do that seems to have been a misjudgment by the people on both sides who negotiated this agreement. The Federation of Newfoundland Indians is represented by their leadership, including Chief Brendan Sheppard. The federation set up a procedure that it thought would be fair, equitable, and adequate to assess and deal with the applications. Clearly, it was not. I do not think anybody anticipated that the number of people who applied would be in the tens of thousands, three or four times more than what was anticipated.

The timelines of the procedure, the committees that were set up, the time that was given in the agreement for processing applications, for making decisions, for issuing the applications, was totally and woefully inadequate, to the point that people were going to be denied the ability to participate in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band because their application would not be processed in the time that was set out in the agreement and in all of the legislation.

Clearly something had to be done to modify the enrolment process and the assessment of that.

As the minister pointed out, the new regime, with two members of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, two members representing the Government of Canada and an independent third party, is a process that has been agreed upon. They have timelines. I have not heard any complaints about the adequacy of the time that people have had to apply, although there are still people, I understand, who are learning about this process, for one reason or another, and still feel that they have not had an opportunity to be considered. Some may say that is because they have not self-identified as a Mi'kmaq and they have not participated and been accepted by these groups as a member, something to which we should all give consideration.

The minister said it is not about ancestry, but indeed it is about ancestry. One of the criteria required, among other requirements, is that an individual self-identify as a member of the Mi'kmaq group of Indians of Newfoundland and be accepted as a member of the Mi'kmaq group of Indians of Newfoundland.

This is an agreement in relation to a subset of people who are aboriginal Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland and Labrador. This subset of people continues to self-identify with the Mi'kmaq group of Indians and is accepted by them. That implies an association with an existing group, as opposed to someone who has left.

It would be grossly unfair, arbitrary, and unjust to those people I have referred to, such as those who may have been removed from their homes for one reason or another. It could have been for stereotyped reasons of government officials. It could have been the practices of child welfare organizations. It could have been for legitimate reasons of child protection that removed a child from the particular home, circumstance, or situation, which ended up in that individual being raised elsewhere without knowledge of their ancestry and their identity as an aboriginal. That is something they may have learned many years later as an adult. It would be grossly unfair for them to not be considered as having an opportunity to identify with their ancestry, their history, their culture, their true identity as an aboriginal person.

I do not see any real provision for that here, and it needs to be addressed and redressed. There are significant problems with that from a moral, legal, and entitlement point of view, and it does need to be addressed.

The minister made some comments, which I find encouraging, although I do not see them in the legislation. I do not see them in any of the agreements that his comments will be taken up by individuals concerned about the fact that they have been potentially left out for the future with the Mi'kmaq group of Indians as under the Qalipu first nations band.

Regardless of the criteria, there had to be a process. I do not think anybody would disagree with that. If we lay down the criteria, someone has to decide whether an individual is in that criteria.

Yes, I could agree that it is the failure of the Government of Canada to ensure that there is a process that is available and that will work, but it is also fair to say that neither the Federation of Newfoundland Indians nor the Government of Canada anticipated the numbers of people who wished to be considered members of the Qalipu first nations band.

I will not denigrate their desire, which the minister seemed to do by suggesting that they showed up at the last minute, claiming to be of aboriginal ancestry. Given the history of Newfoundland and Labrador and the history of neglect by the federal government of its responsibilities from the time of Confederation on, it is not surprising that there are people the government wanted to assimilate, wanted to ignore, refused, and failed to provided the services being given everywhere across country. For example, the non-insured health services, the Innu and Inuit of Labrador were denied access to non-insured health benefits that every status Indian in Canada had access to as long as they existed and were recognized.

It is a shameful history. I brought attention to that when I was first a member of Parliament in 1987, because I knew of the history of negotiations about Confederation. I remember the premier of Newfoundland, Joseph Smallwood, saying that we did not have any Indians in Newfoundland and Labrador. Well, they did not have any on paper because they refused to recognize their existence. Yet here we have the Innu of Labrador, the Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland, and now 100,000 people saying that they are of aboriginal ancestry and proud of it, and they want to have that recognized. I am not saying every single one of them meets whatever criteria are laid out, clearly they probably do not, but there has to be a process. It has to be fair, equitable, and it has to come to a conclusion.

To be fair, there is a process and a process of appeal so that if people are denied because they do not meet the criteria, they do have the right of appeal. There is a time for appeal and the process would go on for some longer period before final decisions are made.

We want to know what this legislation is all about. Is it necessary to have this legislation to achieve the creation of this band? Yes, it is controversial, as I mentioned in my remarks to the minister—what is it with this “landless” band”? Sixty-five communities that are identified as being Mi'kmaq communities in Newfoundland and Labrador are going to have access to some services and programs, but what about a land-based or resource on which they lived for hundreds of years? There is no role for that.

I suspect that was perhaps the only way they believe that they could achieve any recognition by the Government of Canada of their rights. Land claims negotiations in Canada are glacial. The government seems to keep hoping that aboriginal people and their claims will go away. I have not read the book, but I recently saw a quotation from Thomas King's book, The Inconvenient Indian. He has come to the conclusion that the whole history of aboriginal rights in North America is about one thing: land. It is about land that he calls the white man wanted, and that is the major thrust of any policy toward aboriginals in North America.

Here we have a landless band, which says something about what was trying to be achieved here certainly by the Government of Canada. The minister says it was the choice of the Mi'kmaq. I doubt very much that the Mi'kmaq said, “We do not really want any land, we do not need a land base for hunting, fishing, forestry, and looking after our families”. For centuries they had lived on the land in these communities as aboriginal people. They were stewards of that land.

There are a lot of complexities. There is a lot of negative history associated with this whole process and we do not want to see it repeated in a process that is not fair. If it takes away rights, if it denies people access to the courts to establish those rights, then we have a significant problem with that. We want to ensure that when the bill is studied, it gets full consideration by experts so that nothing is done that is going to damage the future possibilities for the aboriginal people of Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly the Mi'kmaq, but we do want to see the Qalipu band get the recognition and the services, programs, and the future that it deserves.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Diane Ablonczy Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was a little puzzled by this member's assertion that somehow this legislation was not properly tied to the negotiated agreements of 2008 and 2013 with the Qalipu Mi'kmaq.

It seems to me that this legislation, which calls for a fair and equitable enrolment process, is important protection on the part of the Parliament of Canada by passing this legislation for the members of this first nation. I am just puzzled about why the member would not want this protection for members of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member of Parliament for Calgary—Nose Hill for her interest in the future of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation.

Of course my comments, if she was listening carefully, would have underscored that we want to ensure that there is a fair and equitable process, and that this would be the purpose of committee hearings: listening to experts to ensure that not only the process itself is fair but also that those who may not be included in this process do not have their rights extinguished as aboriginal people. As I pointed out, this legislation does not clearly include, as a subset, all those who have a reasonable and rightful claim to aboriginal ancestry as Mi'kmaq in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

It is time for statements by members. The member for St. John's East will have eight minutes remaining in the question and answer period when we return to this bill.

The hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska.

Georges HamelStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, the country music community has lost one of its greats, Georges Hamel, who was known as the gentleman of country music.

Georges Hamel began his career 40 years ago as a member of Victoriaville's Trio Western. He went on to become one of the most popular artists on the country music scene in Quebec and North America, selling two million records and winning four Félix awards and the medal of the National Assembly of Quebec. He had recently released his 44th album.

In paying tribute to Georges Hamel, Premier Pauline Marois said that he had “opened doors for many artists of his era and paved the way for the next generation”. Hamel's legacy includes vibrant songs about the everyday lives of ordinary people, songs he had sung from the time he released his first album, Guitare, chante avec moi, up to his latest hit, Une fleur pour vous, a chart-topper from the day it was released.

My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I would like to express our most sincere condolences to his wife, his two daughters, the rest of his family and his fans.

Winter Olympic GamesStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour for me to rise in the House of Commons to pay tribute to some exceptional people from my riding of Durham. It had two proud athletes at the Sochi Olympic games and I would like to highlight their achievements.

Newcastle's Tara Watchorn played defence on our gold-medal winning women's hockey team. Growing up in Newcastle and playing in Durham, she got a scholarship to Boston University before making her first Team Canada. Her parents, Bob and Jacquie, were on hand in Sochi with their lucky loonies to watch their daughter win, and tomorrow, March 1, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Newcastle town hall, we can praise her achievement and see her gold medal up close.

As well, Matt Morrison from Burketon in my riding appeared in his second Olympic games. He grew up skiing at the Brimacombe ski resort and has done my area proud in two Olympic games as a proud member of the men's snowboard team.

These exceptional people have not only inspired our community, but will also push our next generation to achieve, and I celebrate that.

Dartmouth—Cole HarbourStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Every day in my riding of Darmouth—Cole Harbour people are standing up like never before to defend the Canada they love. They are calling, writing, tweeting, marching, and doing anything and everything to make their voices heard. I have hosted two town halls in the past month and both have set attendance records. People in my riding are upset. They are standing up for veterans, for Canada Post, and for VIA Rail. They are standing up for science, for the environment, and for democracy.

The government may defy its own election laws, but it cannot defy the laws of physics. It will see that its attempts to divide Canadians will unify us. Its attempts to suppress the vote will drive people to the polls and its attempts to keep us quiet will only make our voices louder than ever.

CurlingStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to share that Kamloops will be hosting the country's best curlers over the next week for the 2014 Tim Hortons Brier. Tomorrow will be the beginning of the tournament that will determine who goes on to represent Canada at the 2014 Men's World Curling Championship in Beijing.

They will be playing there, of course, to double up on their recent gold medal sweep in Sochi. This will be the second brier held in Kamloops and this time we will be cheering on our Team B.C. extra loudly, especially for our hometown boy Jim Cotter in his fourth brier, who just missed representing Canada at the Olympics after his team came a close second to Brad Jacobs at the Roar of the Rings.

This year's tournament owes a lot to all of our local organizers, volunteers, and sponsors, and we look forward to showing the curlers and their fans the best that Kamloops has to offer. We are known as Canada's tournament capital.

Welcome all to Kamloops, and go team B.C.

Human RightsStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, this week I delivered the keynote address at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, a moving and inspiring gathering of dissidents and former political prisoners who shared witness testimony of human rights violations in countries, including North Korea, Syria, Russia, Eritrea, Iran, and China. These heroes of humanity, the gold medallists, so to speak, of moral courage, personify the larger struggle for human rights in our time, transforming human history through their involvement in that history. It is our responsibility to break the silence, briser le silence, surrounding political prisoners, to advocate on their behalf, to let them know that they are not alone and that the violators of their rights will be held to account.

I also spoke at the Kwibuka20, the official launch of the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity. As part of Kwibuka, survivors bore witness and spoke movingly of the unspeakable horrors of the Rwandan genocide, unspeakable because they were preventable. While the international community dithered, Rwandans died.

We remember the past and the lessons of the past.

I trust that all members of this place will join me as we unite to remember and bear witness, and to combat indifference and inaction, atrocity, and impunity, as we seek to pursue justice and human rights for all.

Winter Olympic GamesStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is also my honour to congratulate our Canadian Olympic team for their incredible success at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Canadians from coast to coast to coast have witnessed excellence and are truly inspired by the performance of all of our great athletes. This is the result of years of hard work, skill, and dedication, qualities that we all aspire to and admire. Winning 10 gold, 10 silver and 5 bronze medals, Canada has proven to be a world power on the world Olympic stage and the Canadian Olympic team has captured the spirit and joy of all Canadians. The sense of pride that we all feel as a nation is incredibly monumental.

I am especially proud of the seven Torontonian athletes, who all competed with passion and professionalism. The diversity of our Canadian Olympians is truly inspirational. In 2018, we will look forward to sending our Canadian athletes to the next winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. This will be the third time in Olympic history that the winter games will be held in Asia.

Once again, congratulations Team Canada.

Rail SafetyStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, there was another train derailment last Saturday. This time, it happened in Montreal, right next to where people live.

This disaster reminds us of the many others that have occurred since the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. Following two days of consultation with my constituents, I can sense their concerns and bewilderment regarding the long freight trains that go through my riding every day. Saint-Bruno is the busiest stretch of track in Canada, and thousands of cars carry dangerous goods right next to people's homes.

The Auditor General's report recommended that the department ensure that it has enough competent inspectors to monitor railway companies and safety management systems.

Despite this troubling situation, there is nothing in budget 2014 to improve rail safety. The government must act immediately to prevent future tragedies like Lac-Mégantic.

The BudgetStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, last week the Leader of the Opposition visited my beautiful riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla.

While in the riding, the Leader of the Opposition visited Structurlam Products in Okanagan Falls. Structurlam is an exciting and innovative success story as the producer of value-added wood products, using a new technology called cross-lam construction. The Leader of the Opposition was quoted as saying, “This factory is a great example of something that is succeeding, and that is great to see.” I could not agree more. Structurlam Products and cross-lam construction were supported by our government's economic action plan under the investments in forest industry transformation program.

Now that the Leader of the Opposition has witnessed firsthand that our economic action plan is “succeeding, and that is great to see”, I hope that the members opposite will join our government in supporting the economic action plan in budget 2014 so that we can continue creating more good jobs here in Canada.

Food LabellingStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the Speech from the Throne, our government committed to consulting with Canadian parents to improve the way nutritional information is presented on food labels.

I have been thrilled to work with our Minister of Health, who has asked me to spearhead consultations with families across the country to ensure that labels provide the best information for moms and dads.

I was pleased this week to see the First Lady of the United States announce new ways that they plan to present this information. It is encouraging to see these efforts toward healthy eating and healthy living not only here in Canada but also internationally.

In the coming months, I look forward to continuing these face-to-face consultations with Canadian families to gather the information about what food-labelling changes are needed to make healthier and more informed choices. Our government is going to make sure that Canadians receive the information they need to make the most healthy choices for their families.

Public Service of CanadaStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure and honour to represent many public service workers. These men and women provide important services for Canadians. They help immigrants settle in Canada and support our veterans and seniors. They make sure that pensions, employment insurance, and tax refunds are delivered on time. They keep our food safe, and they help grow Canadian businesses.

They deserve our respect, not false Conservative claims about wages and sick leave. Canadians deserve a strong public service, not more Conservative cuts. The Conservatives say that front-line services will not be affected by their cuts, but anyone who actually relies on these services knows it is not true. More and more of my constituents are coming to me and my staff, seeking help they cannot get from underfunded and overworked government offices.

Canadians deserve better. It is time for the government to start respecting and supporting our public service.

Richmond CenotaphStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with regret that I advise this House that two nights ago the cenotaph located in Richmond, British Columbia was vandalized.

Vandalizing a memorial for fallen soldiers is simply shameful. These are the men and women who sacrificed their lives to protect our country. This is why I support my colleague's private member's bill to bring criminal penalties against instead of a simple slap of the wrist of people who denigrate our veterans monuments.

I call on those who are responsible to come forward, and if anyone has any information about this crime to contact police immediately.