Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate on Bill C-6, the Specific Claims Resolution Act. This bill is one of the ways the government proposes to provide the first nations with the necessary tools for self-governance, so they can fully participate in life in Canada.
The Specific Claims Resolution Act is part of the government's overall strategy to institute a new specific claims resolution process that is more effective than the current process.
Our colleagues on the other side of the House have submitted a series of significant amendments to Bill C-6, in direct response to the concerns of first nations and in order to improve this bill. These amendments should, in turn, help the first nations have confidence in the new Canadian Centre for the Independent Resolution of First Nations Specific Claims, to be established under this bill.
With regard to the proposal currently under consideration, it has been said that the current specific claims resolution process could be more effective and, as a result, long costly court cases could be avoided. We must invest in the essential issues affecting aboriginals instead of in costly court cases.
Under the current claims resolution process, only a few claims could be resolved each year. The current list of claims is growing daily, in excess of those resolved.
This bill had the full participation of the first nations. There was a joint task force, which presented recommendations on the need to establish an independent entity responsible for claims resolution. As the minister indicated this morning, the fact that this bill is being considered today proves that the initiatives of this joint task force have been largely successful.
Originally, the bill limited the tribunal to settlements under $7 million for claims resolved in the proposed system. After numerous consultations and presentations before the Senate committee, an amendment was moved to increase this ceiling to $10 million.
This new ceiling is realistic. This amendment responds to the concerns of first nations. As we said, this increased amount would apply to most of the claims currently before the Government of Canada.
We know that some say there should be no limits at all. Again, there are many spending priorities, and our budget is not unlimited. We much live within our means and according to our financial obligations.
Another important element from first nations that we heard in the Senate hearings was the concerns regarding the appointment process for the chief executive officer, the commissioners and adjudicators of the proposed new body.
We now have an amendment that would give first nations a greater opportunity to make representations with respect to appointments and to be more actively involved in the review process. There is also a proposal to confirm post-employment conflict of interest rules.
Much work has already gone into drafting this bill, and there have been many studies, including three separate reviews by committees of Parliament, and more than 50 hours of debate.
It has been a long road to get here. As a government, we pledged to have a system in place to resolve first nations claims in a way that would be accountable, transparent and impartial, that would level the playing field for negotiation and resolve claims more quickly and effectively, to provide aboriginal people with enhanced opportunities for economic development in a climate of certainty.
This bill enables us to leave behind an outdated process and take a new direction that will provide first nations with a more fair, effective and equitable tool.
Time has now come to act on this.