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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was aboriginal.

Last in Parliament September 2008, as Conservative MP for Portage—Lisgar (Manitoba)

Won his last election, in 2006, with 70% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Committees of the House February 28th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 14th report of the Standing Committee on Finance entitled “Taxing Income Trusts: Reconcilable or Irreconcilable Differences?”.

I also have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Finance on the topic of identity theft.

Committees of the House February 15th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, it is with mixed emotions, both honour and some regret, that I present today, in both official languages, two reports, the first being the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Finance in relation to Bill C-253, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deductibility of RESP contributions).

This report was made necessary by the need to delay the consideration of Bill C-253 and we are asking for an extension to do so because of all the urgent business, such as income trust discussions, that has been before the finance committee over the last number of weeks.

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 12th report of the Standing Committee on Finance, relating to Bill C-305.

The report deals with the exemption from taxation, 50% of United States social security payments to Canadians residents. Again, this report was made necessary because of the ongoing incredible workload of the finance committee and the need for us to have an extension to deal with this until a later date.

Indian Act February 13th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I thank all members who contributed to this discussion. We seem to have a consensus here that everyone wants to help, but not now.

This April will mark the 25th year since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into being. We will mark the silver anniversary of our commitment to principles Canadians cherish: rights to security, personal freedom and equality. Subsection 15(1) of the charter states:

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race--

Those are genuinely great words, but they do not apply to Canada's aboriginal people who are not equally empowered with the rights that most Canadians take for granted. If we believe the speakers to this bill, then we believe that the aboriginal people should not be empowered now but they should be empowered at some point.

My private member's bill would, on an interim basis, empower them now by putting in place matrimonial property rules that do not exist. That is an important first step to move toward the equality rights that aboriginal women in particular deserve to have and that they have called for in this country for over two decades.

Unfortunately, we need to move forward. The adoption of this bill needs to happen because we have created a jurisdictional ping-pong game for aboriginal people who must endure a marriage breakdown without any prescriptions whatsoever for the division of property. Apart from a very few reserves where there are rules, no one has rules. This bill would fill a legal vacuum that exists which has caused so much suffering, particularly for aboriginal women.

The Indian Act is silent on the issue of matrimonial property rights. This creates a legislative no man's land where no man or woman should have to dwell, a land where the strong and the friends of the strong survive but the weak continue to be oppressed. Certainly I have heard from them, as I believe other members who are concerned with aboriginal issues have as well.

Opposition critics have said in the House that they recognize the problem, just not enough to take action on it. They promote the perpetuation of a process, no doubt followed by further dialogue, followed by focus groups and think tanks and additional consultations, and they frame this as being respectful of aboriginal people. It is not. It is the opposite of that. A failure to take action on such a fundamental issue of human rights under the guise of being respectful of people is actually disrespectful of those very people.

These people have had their rights ignored for a long, long time and they continue to have them ignored by members of the House who should know better. This bill would implement the unanimous recommendations of both the Senate standing committee and the House of Commons committee on native affairs. It provides interim rules until the happy day when the Canadian government or first nations governments take action.

It complements, it does not work in opposition to the government's consultative process. Given the precarious nature of this minority government and of all minority governments, the consultation process the government has under way may or may not lead to legislative action. Every member of the House knows that. In the meantime, we have an opportunity to do something. In the meantime, this bill would demonstrate that the House of Commons is serious about addressing the issue of matrimonial property rights for aboriginal people in a real way.

Let us not be naive. Of course the issue is complex, but our choice here is simple: we either support the status quo or we support change. The status quo has its merits only if we place the never-ending jurisdictional concerns of the Indian affairs department and some chiefs and councils above the needs of aboriginal people, particularly aboriginal women.

I have listened to the opposition members in the House call for immediate emergency action on virtually every aboriginal issue. Water quality, housing, alcohol and drug dependency, education and treaty disputes are all invariably described as emergency situations that require immediate action from the minister and the government. Everything is an emergency, except this, and this can wait.

All of those issues the government has been called upon to act with urgency have one thing in common; they have one great commonality and that is this: they can all be solved by millions or billions of dollars of additional taxpayer funding, and therefore, they are naturally supported by every single chief and council. There is the consensus everybody talks about, but we will not get a consensus on this bill. We will not get a consensus on matrimonial property because some chiefs will always oppose it. Some women will always cry for it and they deserve action from us.

We cannot just throw money at problems. This is an issue that does not require us to throw money. It requires us to give the same rights to aboriginal people that we enjoy and take for granted around this country.

Why is solving the problem of matrimonial property rights so easily put on the back burner? Is it because it is easy to ignore the needs of a minority within a minority? Is it because of the risk of offending the political power brokers on reserves? Is it because on reserve discretionary power will be replaced by the rule of law? Is it because the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will come into existence on reserves for the very first time?

This bill is a respectful first step to bringing equality to aboriginal people. In April we will mark the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I think we would really have something to celebrate if we moved forward on matrimonial property rights for aboriginal people--

Committees of the House February 13th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the tenth report of the Standing Committee on Finance, on Bill C-294, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (sports and recreation programs).

I would like to congratulate the member for Prince Albert on being able to advance this private member's bill through committee. I think all members of this place share in respecting the diligence and effort that is required to advance a private member's bill in this place. The member has shown great persistence in doing so. We congratulate him as we present this report to you, Mr. Speaker, and to our colleagues.

Committees of the House December 7th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of presenting, in both official languages, the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Finance entitled “Canada: Competing to Win”.

I would ask the House to accept this report on behalf of the members of our standing committee. The prebudget consultation hearings are designed to receive the input of Canadians regarding future budgetary priorities and I believe the committee fulfilled this mandate very well.

The theme of this year's prebudget consultation hearing process was Canada's place in a competitive world. We met with over 450 presenters. We travelled to a number of locations throughout Canada. The committee was keen to receive as broad an input as possible and, as a consequence, we travelled to locations which the committees in previous years had not visited. I believe we were very successful as a committee in capturing the broad view.

In conclusion, all committee members were honoured and humbled by the enormity of this task. The challenges were many, including bringing together members, not only from all the political parties, but cataloguing the input from people across the country from coast to coast and then sorting through hundreds of prebudget submissions and coming up with a final report.

I would like to thank the members of the House who took advantage of the prebudget consultation input opportunity they were given by conducting hearings in their own areas. I send a special thanks to the clerk's office for the organization and implementation of the prebudget consultation hearings. Canadians should be proud, not only of this committee but also of the staff who put so much effort into preparing this report.

I sense your impatience, Mr. Speaker, but you should understand that thousands of hours were put into the preparation of this report and therefore two or three minutes should not be too much to ask to introduce the report to the House and to thank you for your patience.

Committees of the House December 6th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Finance, on Bill C-28, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on May 2, 2006, with amendments.

Committees of the House November 29th, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Finance regarding prebudget consultations this year.

Mr. Speaker, if the House would give its consent, I would move that the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Finance be concurred in.

Indian Act November 22nd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, the argument is specious that somehow putting interim rules into place is in any way, shape or form going to delay action. If we have a desire to take action as a result of the consultations that are under way, we will take it, but I have listened to arguments being made for 20 years that there is a process under way. There was a process with the AJI. RCAP was a very extensive process.

Many of us here were part of Bill C-7 and remember the consultations around that. People have argued for many years and some chiefs always will argue that this is not any of our business. I do not think the arguments that this is somehow going to delay action coming from those sources have any credence whatsoever.

However, the argument that an interim action to provide rules for matrimonial property division until this or a subsequent government decides to take action is very strong, because it is either interim rules or no rules. If members knew the women who have been impacted by the absence of rules as I do, they certainly would support having interim rules as opposed to none.

Indian Act November 22nd, 2006

Mr. Speaker, yes, it is the personal stories that make it such a reality. For many of us here who represent constituencies where there are reserves or a high population of off reserve aboriginal people, we know personally of these types of situations developing and it motivates us to see a change. It motivates us to see action taken.

We are also aware, because we talk to the people who have been affected, of the urgency of the issue and the frustration that many, in particular the women, feel about the inaction on the issue.

I want to compliment the minister on the process of consultation. I do not criticize it. I do not mean to criticize it, but consultation has been ongoing for a long time and has not resulted in action being taken. We recognize there are a number of reasons that those actions have not occurred, some I think less legitimate than others, but nonetheless, there have been many things that aboriginal women have told me they feel are just excuses for inaction. They want us to send a powerful message that we believe this is important.

We know it is complex and we know that with 600-plus communities out there there are many different approaches that the communities want to take. That is why the bill is an interim proposal to put rules into place until those communities can arrive at the course of action that they want.

It is a heartfelt issue for many of us who know aboriginal people personally and who represent them. It has gone on long enough. The time for action is certainly long past.

Indian Act November 22nd, 2006

moved that Bill C-289, An Act to amend the Indian Act (matrimonial real property and immovables), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the bill in the House today.

Leona Freed is a friend of mine whose ex-husband physically abused her. However, she had three children so she stayed with him for five years before she finally walked out. For many women, finally leaving the abuse they endured marks a new beginning for them. Assets in family law court are divided equally and a judge makes the call on support issues.

However, that was not the case for Leona. Leaving her ex only sparked bigger problems. Family law did not apply in Leona's case and it still does not for many other women like her because of where the abuse took place, which was on a native reserve called Hollow Water, a couple of hours north of Winnipeg.

No one was there to protect Leona, not even the law. Only a handful of Canada's 600-plus reserves have established matrimonial property laws. On our largely patrimonial Indian reserves, that literally means every man for himself.

When a marriage dissolves, there are no rules to provide fairness or protection to the vulnerable, most often the female partner. Provincial codes apply only off reserve. Rules differ somewhat by province but at least there are rules in place, rules that guarantee rights are protected.

The federal government has jurisdiction on Canada's reserves but the Indian Act is silent on this issue and so we have a problem, or at least aboriginal women have a problem and therefore we in this place should concern ourselves with that problem.

When their relationships break down, they are caught in a legal no man's land where no woman should ever have to tread.

Is this a new problem? No, it is not. Manitoba's aboriginal justice inquiry recommended action on this issue back in 1988, as did numerous other studies, including but not limited to: the monumental Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1997; the 1998 United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights identified the lack of matrimonial property rights for aboriginals and beseeched us to act here; the interim report of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights in 2003, “A Hard Bed to Lie In: Matrimonial Real Property on Reserve”, called for immediate action; and, in 2005 the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development recommended that action take place as well.

The Indian affairs minister and the government has commenced a consultative process with the cooperation of the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada. This is admirable, as have been all previous reports, studies, hearings, commissions, consultations, panels and committees. Unfortunately, none have resulted in any action and the injustices faced by Canadian aboriginal women endure. As well, despite the minister's good intentions, it is quite possible that other factors, such as another federal election, will result in further delays.

This is an issue of interest to columnists. Just this week there was a column in the Globe and Mail. In reference to the consultations, John Ibbitson said:

The most we can reasonably hope for is some incremental progress that the next government will pursue, leading to real reform some time down the road. What experience suggests is that failure will follow failure in unbroken succession.

There is justifiably some doubt as to whether action will actually occur as a result of the consultations. Bill C-289 is an attempt to change that inaction into action. The bill would extend provincial matrimonial property codes to reserves and provide interim rules until the federal government acts or until first nations develop their own charter-compliant codes. In other words, the bill would l put the rule of law into place where it does not currently exist.

This is exactly the measure unanimously recommended by both the Senate and House committees and yet some will argue for further delays. Detractors of the bill will argue that the issue is complicated. They are quite correct. The complexity argument has long been used to undermine aboriginal equality and human rights. Surely, putting an end to the personal suffering experienced by aboriginal Canadians should be sufficient motivation to act.

Certainly the Winnipeg Free Press thinks so. An editorial on October 16 stated:

The practicalities of imposing the law are complex -- many reserve residents live below the poverty line and do not have access to courts or lawyers. But it is high time First Nations men and women had the same basic claim through law granted other Canadians when marriages fail. It may be that decades of legal disputes and years of study are not enough for [the member for Winnipeg South Centre]. Native people have been waiting for such a law for too long.

That is its view and it is mine.

Certainly some first nations chiefs covet the control that now rests with them in the absence of matrimonial property laws. They argue that they are best positioned to make asset allocation decisions in the collective best interests of band members. But many other leaders know that formalizing and depoliticizing these decisions is in the best interests of individuals and of chiefs and councils. In spite of this, some want to play jurisdictional ping-pong with this issue. They would argue that the community should establish its own codes. I would say this in response.

First, this bill respects first nations' governance aspirations. It provides interim protections until communities can do just that, until communities can decide how they wish to proceed.

Second, this is not a new issue. This issue has been around the reserve for years and yet, very few have developed matrimonial property rules. Without action, aboriginal people, in particular aboriginal women, may wait many more years for justice.

Third, why reinvent the wheel? A number of first nations leaders I have spoken to recognize and have said they have many other priorities they have to deal with: water quality, economic development, social problems. They have limited resources. Using and enforcing provincial codes on an interim basis, or even perhaps permanently as some bands have said they would like to do is both cost effective and the right thing to do.

Some chiefs and councils are currently pushing for exemptions to provincial smoking bans. Certainly we know of cases in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and there are others I am told. In particular, this is relevant to gambling ventures that some of the bands have under way. These bands will naturally be concerned about the jurisdictional optics of accepting provincial codes in one category while opposing them in another. I would urge these leaders to consider the optics of prioritizing the equal rights of their band members beneath gambling profits. That is not a pretty optic.

This week's The Hill Times contains an article by Grand Chief Phil Fontaine in which he said:

--after a decade of research, Harvard University found that it could not point to one example of sustained development that, “did not involve the recognition and effective exercise of tribal sovereignty: the practical assertion by tribes of their right and capacity to govern themselves.

That is something many of us here support. But progress towards aboriginal self-government has been hindered by widespread concerns about accountability. These concerns are fuelled by stories of misspending, abuse of power and the often repeated examples of social malaise on reserves. These concerns exist both on and off reserves and these concerns are shared by both aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. The question is how to address these dysfunctional governance problems.

Mr. Fontaine went on to say, “Ultimately, authority spreads from the people”. But does it, can it, when people are afraid to speak up? The absence of property rights among aboriginal people hinders their willingness and ability to speak up when they see wrong being done, or when they experience it firsthand.

And rightfully, many aboriginal women will stand in the way of self-government unless and until their rights are protected. They and all Canadians need to feel confident that there are checks and balances in place to offset any potential abuses of power by community leaders. Establishing matrimonial property rules on reserve is in the best interests of accountability because it replaces a decision making process which can be discretionary and arbitrary with one that is clear and is non-political.

Sovereign nations cannot exist without sovereign individuals. Five hundred thousand aboriginal women confident of their rights may be able to achieve what 5,000 federal bureaucrats will never achieve: better governance on the reserves of this country; more accountable governance on the reserves of this country.

I would ask members of Parliament, on behalf of the Canadians they represent, to support this bill when it comes before the House early in the new year.

When she was fighting for her children and her property, Leona Freed was standing alone. She was standing unprotected. This is our opportunity to stand with Leona and thousands of aboriginal women like her and acknowledge the matrimonial property rights of aboriginal people. With the passage of this bill, we would be standing together to protect and defend Canada's aboriginal women.

Hon. members may ask why I bring this forward when the government has already initiated a consultation process. I have been fighting this issue for a long time. I have travelled to over 100 first nations communities in my capacity as the critic when in opposition. I have heard firsthand the tragic stories, as I know other members of the House have as well, of hardship and of heartbreak directly from the people who have experienced those hardships, from the women affected, women who have been abused, women who have been thrown out of their homes, women who have been forced off of their reserves. As we debate this bill, these problems do not stop; they continue.

In a society where too many people claim unjustified victimhood, aboriginal women are real victims, victims of an intolerable inequity, a contravention of the equality rights in our charter, a contravention of section 35 of the Constitution Act.

I submit to my colleagues in the House that the choice for us here is clear: either we perpetuate the inequality or we end it by making this bill a reality.