Mr. Speaker, once again the hon. member in his predictable rather silly, non-factual, inaccurate, exaggerated speech that I have heard 20 to 30 times in the House refers to facts in newspaper articles.
I found it quite intriguing when I read in the National Post that it may have been his riding which received millions of dollars in grants from HRDC. At the same time this fellow is standing in his place very puffed up and self-righteous about how awful it is that we are doing this in Canada. It is quite interesting.
On a brighter note and more focused on the debate I will address Bill C-222 put forward by the member for Wild Rose for whom I have great respect. He is a decent and good man. He believes very deeply in these issues although he is always wrong. However, we have to be compelled somewhat by his own deep feelings and belief in this regard. That is charming in itself. It is important to the member and we are equally passionate and committed to accountability and the other issues as well.
The plan we have put forward is about giving aboriginal peoples the tools they need to become self-sufficient, self-supporting, and contributing members of the Canadian family. I think all of us in the House and indeed all Canadians believe our ultimate goal is to have first nations people participate fully in Canadian society.
The bill would require the federal government to appoint an ombudsman empowered with certain quasi-judicial authority to oversee and investigate operations and elections of first nations, as the member alluded to. The proposed legislation would make it possible for this person, he or she, to propose changes to first nation policies and practices. If a first nation does not make the changes suggested, the ombudsman would make a report to the House of Commons.
It is not surprising coming from the Reform Party that it hearkens back to the turn of the century when the Government of Canada dispatched officers of the department who were in a sense officers of the court. They had those certain powers to dispatch moneys and work with the native people. They were in fact less bureaucratic and more quasi-police people who policed the reserves. We find it quite unacceptable. Indeed it does not help the situation at all. Not least of which, it does not help first nations people in their communities.
The bill deals with two main areas relating to accountability: band elections and financial management. I point out some specific problems with the bill. It is incongruent with the Indian Act, I say to the member and his research staff, those great folk in the Reform Party research staff from whom I hear from time to time. These two pieces of legislation could not operate together. The member in constructing the bill missed half the equation.
Members of the House should note that an election appeals process already exists in the Indian Act under the Indian band election regulations. These election processes, or for that matter any irregularities and complaints, fall within the mandate of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The bill is in direct conflict not only with the act as a whole but with the appeal process generally and more specifically. It is very incongruent. No attempt is made by the member to reconcile the conflict in existing laws.
The bill also fails to make a distinction between the various ways first nations elect their leaders. There are 610 bands in Canada. Of them 273 conduct their elections pursuant to the electoral provisions of the Indian Act. As already pointed out, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs investigates alleged violations of the Indian Act. These might include ineligible voters, ineligible candidates or secrecy violations. The bill fails to recognize that another 320 of Canada's first nations elect their leadership through traditional practices based on traditional electoral systems.
I do not find that at all surprising. Again, again and again in the House it has been well established and now will be come social fact and a part of Canadian history that the Reform Party does not care about first nations people and has no interest in recognizing their culture, their history and their development as a people in this country, to say nothing of the fact that they were the first people here.
It does not as well research this project sufficiently to take into account that 17 other first nations have negotiated modern self-government legislation. The legislation governs the manner in which these communities elect their leadership.
Once this legislation were in place the federal government would have no role to play in the leadership selection process. Given that Bill C-222 would likely infringe on the aboriginal treaty rights or other rights, consultation is required. What would happen if this bill were brought in?
The auditor general and others have compelled the Government of Canada or the minister not to litigate but to negotiate, in other words to stay out of the courts. It ties up these matters for years and years. It makes for rich lawyers but bad policy, bad outcomes and even more bad situations for first nations people. That has not been thought about at all. The bill does not contemplate that at all. Rather, it takes a confrontational approach once again to a complex problem.
In short, adopting this bill is not a simple process. I stress that it would require the House to repeal or amend several other pieces of legislation in order to consider passage of this bill. Given that it would likely infringe treaty rights, more consultation and work would obviously have to occur.
More important, this bill was not developed in consultation with any first nations people, notwithstanding the member's visits. I say quite honestly that on many occasions the member has visited first nations in his communities. He has tried to do something constructive.
On financial accountability, we need to work closely with first nations communities. The idea of having a policeman of sorts scowling through the books and backyards of first nations communities is not one that is particularly palatable for most reasonable Canadians. Canadians are very fair minded about these issues and would frown quite quickly on the notion of these kinds of practices which are endemic and systemic to the Reform Party. It seems to delight in these kinds of things.
On the whole question of accountability, two weeks ago in Winnipeg I had the privilege to meet with the Auditor General of Canada, the chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, and some 300 first nations people from across the country. We discussed the question of accountability within the first nations communities. I can tell the Reform Party and other members that I was absolutely delighted with that meeting and with discussions with the auditor general. The grand chief and the first nations people were there, many of them women.
They have a genuine interest in resolving the administrative problems and practices that may be occurring on their reserves. They are not running away from those problems. Many first nations are bringing them forward in their own communities and challenging their leaders to come forward with suggestions to make them more accountable to the members themselves. This is what we cheer on and support. It facilitates government to government relations. It builds a better Canadian society and a better future for first nations people. This is what the government is trying to do.
I ask the Reform Party in bringing forward these kinds of measures not to fan the flames of discontent and irritability which sometimes exist between first nations and other Canadians but look very deeply into these matters. Look at them clearly and soberly. Bring forward to the House of Commons some good suggestions that we might debate and include in our legislation in order to make the country an even better place in which to live.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for your indulgence and the opportunity to speak in the House and to inform the hon. members. I still am the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, at least, I understand, until July 15.