Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-6, an act related to the Canadian centre for the independent resolution of first nations specific claims. It is my understanding that the purpose of the bill is to create an independent institution to provide for the filing, negotiation, and resolution of specific claims.
Try as he might to say otherwise, the Prime Minister will have an everlasting legacy over his treatment of the aboriginal people of Canada. I do believe that in his heart he has tried to get it right. It is just unfortunate that aboriginal Canadians continue to pay the price for him getting it wrong.
On almost all fronts, aboriginal Canadians are the poorest, most undereducated group of people in all of Canada. Their on-reserve unemployment rates rank as high as 80% to 90%. The drug and alcohol abuse is heart breaking, and the imprisonment and reoffending rate is higher than any other group in Canada. Yes, there is a legacy here. Unfortunately, to Canadians and in particular aboriginal Canadians, it is an infamous one.
Let me first make clear what the Alliance policy is with regard to settling of aboriginal claims. Our position in land claims negotiations would be to ensure respect for existing private property rights, affordable and conclusive settlements of all claims, and an open and transparent process involving all stakeholders.
Aboriginal Canadians will not be able to move forward as individuals or as an autonomous group until the outstanding claims are settled conclusively and with finality.
The Prime Minister and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development are living in a world that has passed them by. They refuse to acknowledge that their past attempts to resolve the many outstanding issues have all failed and yet they continue to repeat the same mistake over and over again. Fresh approaches and renewed attitudes are needed in order to see substantial change for the betterment of aboriginal Canadians.
The bill would expedite only claims for cash involving less than $7 million and not any larger claims or claims for land. In addition, the commissioner and adjudicators would not be representative of all stakeholders, as they would be appointed by the Prime Minister.
As I understand the process involved under the bill, the centre would consist of a commission and a tribunal. In turn the claims process would proceed through three stages.
First, the input and preparatory stage where the first nations would submit their claim to the commission, arrange research funding and notify interested parties of the claim. Second, the validity stage where the Crown would decide whether or not to accept the claim. If the Crown refuses the claim, the first nation can ask for dispute resolution led by the commission. If that fails, the first nation can ask the commission to refer the claim to the tribunal to decide on its validity. Third, is the negotiation stage. When the claim is accepted by the Crown, or deemed valid by the tribunal, it would enter a commission led negotiation. If negotiation fails, the first nation could ask the commission to refer the claim to the tribunal for a binding decision on cash compensation to a maximum of $7 million. Obviously, this limits the ability of many first nations, and the federal and provincial governments where involved, to resolve claims because most claims are much larger than that.
I have several concerns regarding the bill. Although the centre is slated to be in Ottawa, there appears to have been no consideration for where the most cost effective location for the centre would be.
I am pleased to note that the Auditor General of Canada would audit the financial accounts of the centre annually and the report of the audit would be made to the centre and the minister. Although there is a time lag for the reporting mechanism of the centre to the minister and a further time lag of the minister tabling the relevant documents in the House, there is the appearance of some transparency.
What concerns me is that the minister would not be presenting the quarterly reports from the centre to Parliament. This is wrong and they should be tabled, thus keeping parliamentarians fully apprised of the centre's financial well-being. Let us not have another gun registry on our hands as Canadians cannot afford that.
Another of my concerns relates to the efficiency of the process. The government needs to re-examine its approach to defining access to the proposed claims centre. If it were to be more efficient, the minister would need to determine how to allow more access for legitimate claims. The government must ensure that transparency exists throughout the entire process. It is not reasonable to give government the right to hold up the process as it decides whether or not to hear a claim because it provides no timelines or final deadlines for government to provide an answer. Furthermore, it would provide no mechanism for the commission or the claimant to move the process forward in the event of extended delay by the government.
The government appears determined to continue to hold on to all of its dictatorial power, all the while paying lip service to aboriginal Canadians.
Clause 32 would allow the government to require the claimant to meet an excessive threshold of proof of having used all available mediation mechanisms before allowing the first nation to request a move to the tribunal in the case of an unresolved claim. This appears to be nothing less than another stalling mechanism for the government. Of special note is that this clause would also impose a cap on the validity stage of the process.
I am concerned about the arbitrary $7 million cap for compensation approval by the centre. I understand there were other proposals, as high as $25 million, however the amendment was defeated. Furthermore, the process used to determine the actual compensation is difficult, if not impossible, to determine.
One of my greatest concerns surrounds clause 77. This clause reads:
The Governor in Council may make regulations
(a) adding to Part 2 of the schedule the name of any agreement related to aboriginal self-government; and
(b) prescribing anything that may, under this Act, be prescribed.
Once again this appears to be a loophole that would allow the government to fill in the blanks after the bill has passed under the watchful eye of Parliament. Although the Prime Minister talks the talk about parliamentary democracy, he is unable to walk the walk. Legislation should not be something that can be added to arbitrarily after the fact.
Let me confirm that the Canadian Alliance supports the fair and expeditious resolution of claims in a manner that benefits relations between aboriginal Canadians and the federal government, and in fact all Canadians. The bill would not achieve that goal. The federal government has it all wrong with timing. Under this draft of the bill, first nations could not file claims based on events that occurred within the 15 years immediately preceding the filing of a claim.
The bill would raise false hopes and open the floodgates for more claims that first nations have held back. The centre risks being overwhelmed by cases, just like the Liberal gun registry, resulting in an even larger backlog and ultimately higher costs.
In the past three decades the government has settled only 230 claims. Some 500 claims are still waiting to be heard. First nations representatives tell us they expect up to 1,000 more claims to be filed. At the current rate it would take 200 years to deal with all of these claims. That is totally ridiculous.
In 1993 the Liberal red book promised an independent claims commission jointly appointed by first nations and the Government of Canada. The bill breaks that promise by concentrating the power to make appointments in the PMO.
Bill C-6 requires change and amendments before being ratified. I would ask all members of the House to support the current amendment that would send the bill back to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources. This legislation is flawed and requires serious change before becoming law.