Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-29, the national council for reconciliation act. This bill is the government's attempt after six and a half years to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action 53 through 56. Indeed, since 2015, the Liberal government, for all its rhetoric on reconciliation, has only fully implemented 11 out of the 94 calls to action and only eight of the 76 calls that actually fall under its jurisdiction.
Bill C-29 is long overdue, and the rush by the government to implement something has produced a flawed bill. If we are to continue down the path of reconciliation with indigenous people, a robust and inclusive response to calls to action 53 to 56 is needed. Unfortunately, the government has failed to produce that response. Bill C-29 provides a framework for the implementation of a national council for reconciliation, but the foundation is cracked and will need some care and attention at committee if the government hopes to provide a workable council that is respected by all indigenous leaders, communities and organizations across Canada.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that the government establish a national council for reconciliation in call to action 53. Bill C-29 would address this through the creation of a not-for-profit corporation that would have between nine and 13 members who would monitor and report the progress of the government on their efforts for reconciliation with indigenous people. The council would not be an agent of His Majesty in the right of Canada, nor would it be governed by the Financial Administration Act. It would be, in every practical sense, an independent body, or at least it should be.
Here we find the first of several issues I have with Bill C-29. How independent would this council be if the members of the board are picked by the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations? The bill stipulates that the first board of directors would “be selected by the Minister in collaboration with the transitional committee”. However, let us not forget that the transitional committee was selected by the minister in December 2021. Why is this important? First, the board would have the vital task of establishing the articles of incorporation and other founding documents that set aside how future boards would be elected and who would constitute a member. In other words, the minister and his hand-picked transitional team would determine the future of this so-called independent council, and its job would include taking the minister to task over their failed record on reconciliation.
Call to action 54 calls on the government to provide multi-year funding for the national council. The government did so in budget 2019 through the allocation of $126.5 million, yet the act would not require any accountability on the expenditure of this money, and not one financial report would need to be filed by the council.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recognized the importance that relevant and timely information be provided to the council for it to actually do its work. This was enshrined in call to action 55, where all levels of government are required to provide annual reports and current data on a wide range of areas related to indigenous matters, including but not limited to child care, education, health, incarceration rates, criminality and victimization rates. It would be interesting to hear from provincial and municipal authorities how they are able to implement this requirement. I hope, for the council's sake, that a lot of the work to streamline these requests has already taken place between the crown-indigenous relations ministry, including Northern Affairs Canada, and their provincial counterparts. I also hope that there will not be any undue burdens placed on our already taxed municipal governments with respect to extra reporting requirements.
Call to action 56 calls on the government, the Prime Minister in fact, to formally respond to the report by issuing a state of indigenous peoples' report that outlines the government's reconciliation plan. Bill C-29 utterly fails here, designating the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, rather than the Prime Minister, to make the response.
One of the most glaring issues with Bill C-29 is the lack of representation on the national council for reconciliation. The bill sets aside three seats for the AFN, ITK and MNC, three national organizations that the Liberal government almost exclusively deals with when it comes to indigenous issues, yet they are not the only national indigenous organizations in Canada. In fact, large swaths of urban and poor people would be ignored. There is no representation of women or children designated on the council. There is no acknowledgement of the work of the on-the-ground community organizations that do the work day in and day out for indigenous people.
The Liberals will argue that those organization could get elected by the membership, and sure they could, but why do some organizations get guaranteed spots and not others? Why have important national organizations, such as the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples or the National Association of Friendship Centres, been designated as second-class organizations by the government? Where are the other Métis and indigenous voices?
What about organizations focused on the important work of economic reconciliation? I often hear in meetings with indigenous leaders about the importance of economic reconciliation, not just to address their own issues with their own resources, but to also to return a sense of self-sufficiency and honour to people who have had it stripped away by a paternalistic, archaic, and irreparably broken Indian Act.
If the government of Canada is serious about true reconciliation, we need to address the elephant in the room. I believe that we need to immediately, and in partnership with indigenous leaders, do a comprehensive review of the Indian Act with the intent of removing the legislative barriers to participation in Canada’s economy and developing a long-term plan to fully transition away from the Indian Act.
Some indigenous communities are already there. Some are in the process, and some are not ready for that conversation. That is why we need a cautious approach to supporting the abolition of the Indian Act by providing indigenous communities that are prepared for self-government with the legislative avenues to do so, while also ensuring that a robust and national dialogue on the plan for what is next is held inclusively with indigenous and non-indigenous people and ensuring that any new legislation is based on consultation relating to autonomy, taxation, transparency, accountability and property rights.
At the same time, it is my belief that we need establish a national dialogue with indigenous leadership and organizations to remove the bureaucratic barriers to economic prosperity that exist at Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, with the goal of phasing out these government bureaucracies all together. There is no reason why indigenous communities and organizations cannot deal directly with finance or health or any other government entity without consulting the gatekeepers at those two ministries.
We need to modernize the land treaties system to initiate economic prosperity for indigenous communities; provide the tools for indigenous communities to determine their own destiny while balancing the rights of Canada; ensure the need for certainty and finality of terms, so as not to impede the overall governance of the nation; and provide future certainty for governments, industry, and indigenous and non-indigenous people.
The existing model of federal public servants determining who is and who is not ready for self-governance needs to change. Reconciliation must be centred on the future of indigenous people, not what is in the best interest of this Liberal government. By modernizing our approach to indigenous partnerships through the eventual abolition of the Indian Act, we modernize Canada, and we usher in a new age of economic prosperity and equality for opportunity.
Bill C-29, which disregards the important counsel of organizations devoted to indigenous people, women's and children’s issues, urban and poor first nations, and self-sufficiency and equality is a symptom of a much larger issue. Conservatives support reconciliation with indigenous people, and we are ready to have conversation.