Mr. Speaker, that was a very interesting interchange which perhaps was at a more legalistic level than my speech will be.
I rise today to mention something that took place following our caucus meeting this past Wednesday. I attended a meeting with representatives of the Westbank band, all of whom I think have been in the public gallery listening to our speeches on the bill. I also had the pleasure of meeting with Chief Louie in the opposition lobby yesterday.
I mention this context because I want to put into perspective my opposition to the bill. The fact is there is not universal agreement that this is a good bill and those with opposing positions do have a right to speak in this place without name calling or getting too upset. I believe it is our duty as parliamentarians to ensure that opposing concerns are put into the record in this place.
My contact with the band members yesterday was very pleasant. We had an excellent discussion after the caucus meeting. There were many questions answered and there was no personal animosity whatsoever. There was a sharing of ideas, answering of questions. It was very healthy.
I attended because I needed some questions answered, but I also wanted to gauge their reaction to the opposing perspective that I had been expressing at earlier stages of the debate on the bill. In that respect, it is important to note that there was no hostility but rather what appeared to be a genuine interest in and respect for a difference of opinion.
The representatives even volunteered the information that there was far from unanimous support among band members themselves. That was just referred to by my colleague from Vancouver Island North. There were a variety of opinions among band members that did make it in some respects, from what I understand from the contact yesterday, a bit of a struggle to get the agreement through some stages and to pass the various votes along the way, but that those who have brought it this far truly believe in democracy and they consider it very healthy to engage in the type of debates that certainly took place at the band level. They have not been upset by the differences of opinion that have been expressed here.
I do congratulate them for that because I genuinely believe, as my colleagues have expressed, that this agreement will work well for the Westbank band. It is going to work well because of the very different attitude that we see expressed by this particular group of band leaders from that which we see in many other bands.
It is also a very different attitude from what we have seen in the House from some Liberal members and the NDP who have yelled insults across the House and words like “shame” at those of us who have been giving voice to concerns of others. Their attitude is so close-minded that it completely fails to recognize that a sizeable percentage of Westbank members have themselves for one reason or another expressed opposition.
Whether we consider that to be valid or not is another debate for another day but the fact is there was disagreement. It was not a 100% vote at every level for everything that is in the bill. It would be wrong for us to leave the public impression that therefore in the House there was 100% agreement on every aspect of the bill. I actually think it is a shame that some government members and the NDP have not seen fit to represent some of the concerns of band members who voted against the bill.
One of the concerns that we had explained to us yesterday by the band representatives was that some members were concerned about the allocation of land resources, in particular certificates of possession which we on off reserve lands do not have to worry about, but it is similar to getting title to a piece of property. There are always concerns on reserves surrounding these certificates of possession and the right to use a particular house or piece of land.
In my riding there are three aboriginal reserves. I receive expressions of concern weekly from band members who are worried about their right to pass on a house when a husband dies, if there is a divorce, or a disagreement with band leaders. This seems to be a constant worry and threat being held over the heads of band members certainly in the area where I live.
In the case of the Westbank, all of the evidence indicates that this agreement will work well. The attitude is that those at the top clearly favour democratic processes, wealth creation, private property rights and open governments; but as I also said, band members on reserves in my riding do not believe that this type of agreement would be helpful to them.
I received an e-mail yesterday confirming that my election lawn signs will once again appear on the lawn of a Squamish elder because of my support for their positions on issues of self-government. They have very real concerns with this type of self-government agreement.
In order for similar wealth creation and private property rights to exist on, for example, the Squamish reserve in my riding, band members tell me that there would first have to be a major change in attitude by the band chiefs, so that there could be truly democratic processes on the reserve.
As it stands, and again I say band members tell me, votes and meetings are stacked by the purchase of votes with alcoholic beverages, promises of home renovations or some other favour. Sometimes band members claim that they are not informed about meetings or that secret meetings take place to approve things which are later hoisted upon them. They wish they were part of a band system like the one found in Westbank but they are not. They are worried that any support I show for this type of agreement would automatically translate into support for a similar agreement for them.
I therefore owe it to them to express their concerns and to vote against the bill on the principles that they have expressed to me.
On another issue, the lawyer for the Westbank band, who was at the meeting yesterday, acknowledged, as my colleague from Delta—South Richmond said, that there are differing legal opinions as to the application of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, despite what the minister says. He stood up a few minutes ago and said that lawyers say that there is no problem here. Some lawyers say that there is no problem while plenty of other lawyers say there is.
I believe we will have decades of litigation as a result of this agreement. In fact, it is my understanding that a legal challenge is already underway.
We also do not know where this will lead because of the way laws apply on reserves. For example, there was a front page article in the National Post yesterday labelled “Get Your MRI on a Native Reserve”. The story told of a Saskatchewan band that is planning to offer for profit medical services on reserve because the Canada Health Act, it claims, does not apply to those on a reserve.
In that respect, I am surprised that the NDP members, who constantly harp to the Liberal government on allowing for profit medical services to be run by corporations, are not attacking a Saskatchewan Indian band for wanting to do the same thing. Perhaps it is part of their way of being close-minded about differences of opinion on bands and they never see anything wrong with anything that is done on an Indian reserve.
However it is because of the unpredictable nature of the way that laws apply on and off reserve that leads us to the possibility of decades of litigation on this particular bill. This could have been avoided, at least in part, or reduced significantly if we had adopted the amendment proposed by my colleague from Delta—South Richmond and which, unfortunately, did not pass in the House.
Also at the meeting yesterday I asked a band representative whether consideration had been given to a model of land ownership along the fee simple basis, similar to what we have off reserve where we actually own our land and register with a land titles office and then amalgamate with the existing municipalities.
The answer given was that the band members on balance wanted to protect their culture. I respect that decision, but doubt still remains behind the scenes whether this idea really was dismissed because it is about the dissolution of an existing bureaucracy within the band and amalgamation with another bureaucracy.
I hear those types of discussions in my own riding where there are three municipal councils, the North Vancouver district, the North Vancouver city and the West Vancouver council. There really is no reason for having three different councils on the north shore of Vancouver. We could probably operate very well with one.
Every now and again we get the suggestion that maybe there should be an amalgamation, that it would save costs and that it would be simpler just to have one council to deal with all the issues. Then, of course, these special interest groups, being the council members themselves, argue against it and prevent it from ever going to a public vote. This is just human nature. I do not mean it in an unkind way, but I do believe that this type of power situation always goes on in the background.
One of the band representatives did admit at our meeting that race based law is a reality in Canada. That is my final reason for continuing to oppose this bill on behalf of my constituents, both native and non-native, I would say.
With three reserves in my riding, there is strong opposition to government based on race or ethnic background. The overwhelming position is that everyone should be treated equally as Canadians, subject to the same laws and opportunities with no distinctions based on race.
Many of my constituents believe that this self-government approach is badly flawed, is akin to apartheid and is completely unacceptable in a civilized country in the year 2004. They also believe that our aboriginal neighbours in North Vancouver would have a much better life and a far better standard of living if they were set free from the shackles of the Indian Act and the threat of self-government.