Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House on Bill C-39, the York Factory First Nation flooded land act.
Hon. colleagues will remember back in June 1994 when this House gave second reading to Bill C-36, the Split Lake Cree First Nation Flooded Land Act. The flooded lands acts are part of my constituency in the riding of Churchill. The bill before us, the York Factory First Nation flooded land act, is very similar to Bill C-36, the Split Lake Cree Flooded Land Act which we passed in 1994.
The objective is to enact certain elements of the implementation agreement that has been negotiated with the York Factory First Nation to fulfil obligations under the Northern Flood Agreement. In order to put this bill into perspective I would like to quickly remind hon. members about the circumstances that have led us to this proposed legislation.
In December 1997 the Northern Flood Agreement was signed by Canada, the province of Manitoba, Manitoba Hydro and the Northern Flood Committee who was acting on behalf of the five Manitoba First Nations: the Split Lake Cree, Nelson House, York Factory, Norway House and Cross Lake First Nations.
The purpose of this agreement was to address the adverse impact of hydro-related projects on the Churchill and Nelson Rivers that resulted in the flooding of almost 12,000 acres of reserve land in northern Manitoba.
This project also flooded more than 525,000 acres of non-reserve land, much of which was traditionally used by the five First Nations for hunting and trapping. The affected waterways were also used as a source of drinking water, for recreational pursuits, for food and commercial fishing, and for transportation.
The flooding had an enormous impact on these communities. It has robbed many families of their traditional livelihoods and caused many people to leave their communities in search of work and a better way of life elsewhere. It resulted in the loss of homes and personal property. In total, about 9,000 First Nations people were directly affected by the flooding.
The Northern Flood Agreement was intended to address the problems caused by the flooding, to compensate the five First Nations for loss of land and the negative impact on their livelihoods. The agreement identified financial compensation, community infrastructure programs, land and other benefits that will be provided to the affected parties.
Hon. members will recall from the debate on Bill C-36 that the Northern Flood Agreement did not live up to its promises. The agreement is vaguely worded and did not anticipate all issues that have since arisen. It did not set out the roles and responsibilities of the parties as clearly as we would have liked. As a result, little or no progress was made in implementing many elements of the agreement.
As the implementation process broke down, the affected Manitoba First Nations turned to the dispute resolution mechanism set out in the Northern Flood Agreement. Over time, more than 170 claims
were submitted for arbitration. Like many other elements of the agreement, this process turned out to be both inefficient and costly for all parties.
An important breakthrough was achieved in July 1990, when the four parties to the Northern Flood Agreement negotiated the proposed basis of settlement as a means of addressing outstanding claims and obligations. This proposed basis of settlement is now finding a foundation for negotiating implementation agreements with the individual First Nations.
One such agreement was signed with the Split Lake Cree First Nations in 1992, and is now being implemented. The settlement agreement provides for financial compensation, increases socioeconomic opportunities for the Split Lake Cree and releases Canada for all matters being dealt with under this agreement.
Implementation agreements have now been completed with two additional communities. After ratification by the community late last year the York Factory First Nation implementation agreement was signed in January. I am pleased to report that these negotiations are proceeding with the two remaining First Nations affected by flooding, Norway House and Cross Lake.
Bill C-39 will not enact an implementation agreement with York Factory. The agreement has its own legal force and the parties have already begun to implement them. However, as was the case with Split Lake, legislation is needed to execute certain provisions of the agreement. This is the purpose of Bill C-39.
This bill is virtually identical to Bill C-40. Nevertheless it is important that separate legislation be passed to demonstrate positive closure of this heated issue in each community. Because of difficulties in implementing the Northern Flood Agreement, the passing of band specific legislation will be viewed as a significant achievement by members of each community.
As I indicated a moment ago, Bill C-39 and Bill C-40 will enact certain elements of the Nelson House and York Factory implementation agreements. Specifically these bills will achieve four objectives. First, they will ensure that any lands provided to these First Nations in fee simple title will not become special reserves under section 36 of the Indian Act.
The removal of section 36 application means that the York Factory First Nation-as is the case with the Split Lake Cree First Nation-will be able to sell their fee simple lands, develop them, take out mortgages, and address property taxes pursuant to the arrangements with the province. In effect, they can use and control these lands as they see fit within the parameters of the provincial land regime.
Fee simple ownership will also protect the interests of the province by placing the land under the provincial land regime. It will reduce the administrative burden on the Department of Indian Affairs because it will not be responsible for managing these lands as it is for reserve lands.
Second, this bill will provide that moneys owed under the York Factory implementation agreement are not payable to the crown and therefore will not be administered as Indian moneys under the Indian Act. Instead the moneys will be paid to and administered by First Nations trusts at the discretion of the York Factory First Nation.
This is a very important provision. It will give the affected bands much greater control over these moneys than they would have under the Indian Act. This in turn removes a potential source of friction between the bands and the Department of Indian Affairs over how the money should be managed.
From the government's perspective this provision will further reduce the department's administrative burden. The First Nation will have more immediate access to these funds to address their own priorities. Nevertheless there will be important controls in the form of trust provisions set out in provincial law.
Third, this bill will provide that certain types of claims can continue to be made under the Northern Flood Agreement. However, if the applicable implementation agreement also provides for the matter to be settled or adjudicated, the provisions of the band specific implementation agreement will take precedence over the Northern Flood Agreement process which I noted earlier is costly and inefficient.
This proposed bill will enable Canada to use the Manitoba arbitration act when dealing with any dispute between the parties submitted to arbitration under the terms of the Northern Flood Agreement. Currently Canada is the only party to the agreement that does not have access to these arbitration mechanisms.
I want to assure hon. members that the proposed act will not establish a new program or provide new benefits to First Nations people. It does not include any commitments by the Government of Canada that do not already exist under the implementation agreements themselves. We are simply fulfilling commitments made by government to aboriginal people which is something we said we would do in the red book and which we have been progressively doing for the past two and a half years.
I am pleased that this agreement, and particularly the elements we are proposing to execute through legislation, will take us further down the path toward self-government. Bill C-39 will empower First Nations' leaders and the compensation provisions of the
implementation agreements will provide the means by which community conditions can be improved.
The provisions for fee simple ownership of land and to place compensation moneys under First Nations control are both important steps to ward increased self-reliance and self-government.
Under this approach, the First Nations' leaders will be accountable to their own members for spending, investment and land management decisions. This is a significant move away from the Indian Act and toward self-government, one that I wholeheartedly support.
In terms of improving community conditions, we need only look at the Split Lake Cree First Nation, which has been implementing its settlement agreement since 1992, to see examples of positive progress.
First and foremost, the agreement has put to rest a divisive issue in the community. As well, Split Lake now has the ability to manage water flows, which means that community members are better equipped and able to pursue their traditional lifestyles.
Through the Tataskweyak Trust, the Split Lake Cree First Nation is using its compensation money wisely and for the benefit of its members. This money is being used for socioeconomic development, to support resource harvesting, to compensate members for certain types of losses as a result of the flooding, to build remedial works and much more.
Chief Norman Flett, who negotiated the Split Lake settlement agreement, appeared before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development during the committee's review of Bill C-36. At that time, he told the committee that the implementation agreement had given his First Nation a huge lift in trying to improve community conditions.
His comments were echoed by John Peter Mayham, another witness from split Lake, who told the standing committee:
The money and the benefits we receive from our settlement are mainly used to build the community. We are reinvesting the dollars in the community. Before, 60 per cent of the income on a reserve went off reserve. That's why we're trying to capture our own money from the reserve and invest it inside the community-we're encouraging individual band members to go into their own economic development, their own businesses.
The benefits of the settlement agreement are visible throughout the Split Lake Cree community. Settlement moneys have already been used to build an arena, housing units and a mini-mall. Programs have been established related to business development, trapping, culture and recreation.
In the case of the business development program, any band member, whether living on reserve or off reserve, can apply for funding.
When Mr. Mayhem appeared before the standing committee, he reported that the band was exploring major joint ventures with outside construction companies. For example, a $2.7 million Manitoba Hydro contract was entered into as a joint venture between Split Lake Construction Company and Comstock Canada Company Ltd. Another $640,000 Manitoba Hydro contract was awarded to Split Lake Construction Company.
The Split Lake First Nation has also become one of the major shareholders of a company that manages capital projects for First Nations in several provinces. I am particularly impressed by an initiative of the Tataskweyak Environmental Agency, which has also been established by the Split Lake Cree First Nation. The agency's water quality monitoring program is so successful that the individuals responsible for the program have been invited to many other communities to provide information and guidance on water monitoring.
As parties to the implementation agreements, the province of Manitoba and Manitoba Hydro support Bill C-39. In fact, the provincial government is now in the process of drafting companion legislation to this bill, as required by the implementation agreements. The provincial legislation will further protect the interests of the bands.
This bill was developed in close consultation with the affected First Nations. Meetings were held only last month involving Canada, the province of Manitoba, Manitoba Hydro and the York Factory First Nations to discuss the proposed act.
Minor revisions have been made to address First Nation's concerns. I want to assure hon. members these acts will in no way affect the other three Northern Flood Agreement bands, including the two that have not yet signed settlement agreements, Cross Lake and Norway House.
I want to make it perfectly clear that the proposed act is not necessary to execute the implementation agreement with the York Factory First Nation. However, the act is necessary if we are to move away from the expensive and frustrating process of the Northern Flood Agreement.
It is necessary if we are to give the First Nation control over their compensation money and fee simple lands. It is necessary if we are to continue to move away from the paternalistic Indian Act and toward increased self-sufficiency, self-reliance and self-government.
By giving its approval to Bill C-36 several months ago, the House has already endorsed the government's approach to resolving outstanding issues related to the Northern Flood Agreement. I therefore urge my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation which will achieve the same positive objectives in other
affected communities. I support the bill and thank you, Mr. Speaker, for letting me comment.