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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was agreement.

Last in Parliament October 2000, as Liberal MP for Provencher (Manitoba)

Lost his last election, in 2000, with 36% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Points Of Order December 13th, 1999

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Over three and a half or four minutes ago and into this long dissertation you asked the gentleman to be brief and courteous to the rest of us in the House with his comments.

If the rules of the House suggest that he has to make this comment, would you please use the discretion of the Chair and ask him to conclude or cut him off?

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act December 13th, 1999

Mr. Speaker, I rose on a point of order a few minutes ago with respect to the comments of the member for Skeena who, in reference to the minister and the government, used the words “deliberately” and “misrepresent”.

In normal situations it is regretfully normal that one may, I believe, refer to the government or political parties, but I will read for the Chair the Hansard blues which I obtained a few minutes ago. The member for Skeena said: Mr. Speaker, when I listened to the minister speak and talk about myths and shameful actions of other members in the House, I cannot think of anything more shameful than to deliberately set out to misrepresent to Canadians and British Columbians what this treaty represents.

It goes on to say in the next paragraph: This minister and previous ministers before him have deliberately set out to misrepresent and mislead Canadians on the content of the Nisga'a agreement.

That is the end of the quote from the Hansard blues. I ask, based on the new information before the House, that the member for Skeena apologize to the minister of Indian affairs and withdraw those unparliamentary comments.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act December 13th, 1999

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Skeena is using very provocative language, with suggestions that people on this side of the House deliberately misled Canadians. I would ask the member to withdraw those statements.

Nisga'A Final Agreement Act December 6th, 1999

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate prior to the final votes being taken in the House.

I want to begin with that point and advise Canadians of what we are doing this evening and will probably be doing tomorrow evening. If they tune in again to this well known and famous station, they will notice members of parliament repeatedly getting up and down, again and again, probably for hours on end, voting on 469 amendments proposed by the Reform Party to this treaty.

This is quite interesting in itself, in that it is an unusual, highly irregular practice in the House, what we tend to call the highest court in the land, where 80% of the members will vote for the treaty, but we have an obstructionist group putting forth amendments and pretending to have a legitimate debate. I think it is important to inform the Canadian people about what is happening in the House as we have this discussion.

Having said that, I want to begin by making some primary observations and I would like to go into some discussion about the applications of the charter and the constitutional implications for this particular bill.

It has been said many times that this is an historic treaty which breaks away from the confines, the handcuffs and the shackles, as members of the Reform Party would say, of the Indian Act. That is the same Indian Act that has held first nations people bound to the confines of their reserves and their lands. It is an attempt to break free from that, to move on into the 21st century and to do it with dignity which would be supported by all Canadians.

I found it quite interesting in testimony to hear from our member from Nunavut who talked about her parents not being able to vote until 1960, like Canadian first nations veterans who fought for this country. While living on reserve they nonetheless joined the forces in the second world war and made great contributions to this country. They came back home and were not able to vote. I wonder where those who are opposing the treaty now were to defend them in those important historical moments? They were not there. Their voices were conspicuously silent.

Reform Party members have talked about consultation. We know that we have had a debate in the House. We have had a week long trip in British Columbia. The provincial legislature had the longest debate in recent history in British Columbia, 116 hours of debate. Through an all-party standing committee dealing with these matters, there were 34 meetings.

There were many other meetings conducted even in places like Trinity College in British Columbia, a well known Christian college. I believe Chief Gosnell and others went at their invitation to meet with them and discuss openly with the students and staff what the treaty meant and what they were intending to do.

The Anglican church in British Columbia also invited them, as well as others. Wherever they were asked to go they willingly went to talk about these important features with all Canadians, anyone who was interested in hearing. So we have had consultations.

I want to talk about the constitutional legal framework of this agreement. What is important to understand in the debate with the Reform Party is this. We have heard a lot of this over the past number of months about the protection of women's rights, constitutional third order of government and so on. Let us set out very clearly for the Canadian people the fundamental point of the Reform Party's argument and why it would oppose the legislation.

The fundamental point, Reform Party members argue absolutely wrongly and I think they realize that as well, is that this is a constitutional amendment. In other words, the 14 areas of jurisdiction laid out in that treaty would somehow contravene or spill outside of the constitution or those protections provided in section 35 for existing treaties and new treaties that would be negotiated now, such as this one, and in the 21st century.

They argue that if that is the case this would trigger a referendum both in the House of Commons in Canada under part V of the constitution or those particular provisions in British Columbia where it would trigger a referendum there. This is absolutely not true. This is absolutely false.

The fact of the matter is that there are no powers in that treaty, in that bill that contravene the constitution. There are no new powers. The powers delegated throughout that process in that treaty, those 14 areas, are those that are normally used within the understood provisions of aboriginal self-government for first nations people and they are quite gentle in their application in terms of delivering health services, education, child welfare, to name a few. They are not the kind that are the normal cause of debate in terms of constitutional provisions in this country. These are very everyday kinds of services, such as child welfare, that in fact, quite honestly, through federal-provincial agreements many first nations have been delivering for 20 years.

What do the experts say about this? What do the experts tell the Canadian people about the debate? We have heard from the Liberal Party. The Tories are agreeing with us and the NDP and the Bloc, but the Reform Party is saying no. Let us turn to the experts for a moment and ask them. What did they say in their testimony?

Professor Scott from McGill came under questioning in one of the first rounds of questions from the Liberal side and I had the opportunity to ask him the question. Professor Scott was chosen by the Reform Party as one of the folks it would like to have testify at the committee table. What did he tell us? He said that this is no constitutional amendment. I believed him.

In that same group was Professor Brad Morse, a former vice-dean of the University of Ottawa, and still teaching there, who again reiterated that in his view this was no constitutional amendment. In fact, he went on to discuss the seven years of applications of law where the supreme court of the United States had applied these same kinds of provisions in the U.S. courts recognizing those rights of first nations people and without violating what they call the sacred constitution of the U.S. The same would hold here. This is no violation, no abrogation, no derogation of those provisions that were negotiated in 1982.

We also heard from Professor Hogg and Professor Monahan. Those who are lawyers, either watching this debate, or who might read about it after, or even here in this Chamber, will know that Professor Hogg is the dean of constitutional law in Canada. Any student will know that his written textbook is required reading in first year constitutional studies across Canada. We had him testify before our committee.

I would like to quote from some of his observations, as well as a colleague of his, Professor Monahan, another equally eminent and respected legal scholar who is called upon frequently by the media and others to give his observations on a number of issues affecting Canadians.

Professor Monahan in responding to questions said that “While I think there are some respectable arguments that can be made,”—I think he was being very generous here—“challenging the agreement on the basis of some older cases”—he is referring to the privy council which was the supreme court at the time—“in the early part of the 20th century, in my view, the better or more persuasive legal conclusion is that the agreement”—the Nisga'a Treaty, Bill C-9—“and the ratifying legislation is valid”—here we go—“and does not constitute an amendment to the Constitution of Canada”.

He also went on to talk about section 35 recognizing both existing treaties and future treaties. That is spelled out very clearly in section 35 of the constitution.

What did Professor Hogg have to say? I am quoting him in his analysis and he said:

I have very little doubt that the courts will decide that there is an aboriginal right to self-government. So the Nisga'a people have those things now whether or not the treaty is entered into.

I want to conclude by saying that there is no constitutional amendment and, therefore, no referendum. It is clearly within the boundaries of—

Supply November 22nd, 1999

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question. The process with respect to the selection of witnesses was done in camera. Although the Reform Party has chosen to put that in the public domain, I will not go there, only to say that I have gone on record on CBC Newsworld as commenting that the House leader for the Reform Party, after the selection of witnesses, thanked me for being very fair and reasonable in terms of including a number of people from the riding of the hon. member for Skeena who wanted to be included.

To Mr. Conrad, whom he is allegedly quoting, I suspect some person from his riding, I would say that in fact we did hear from these kinds of people. There was a Mr. Barton who is a Nisga'a person who filed a number of charges in the courts. One of the courts, the court of appeal, heard the case in Kamloops and ruled against him although there were a couple of court cases wherein he brought charges against the Nisga'a people and was found seriously wanting in those charges.

I can report that he would say that if there is anyone who is grassroots it has to be Mr. Barton. We accepted him and embraced him to come before our committee in Terrace. We heard him for about an hour and a half in his testimony and we understood very clearly where he was coming from. I do not accept at all the suggestion or allegation that we are not listening to grassroots people.

The hon. member is quite right. I have spent quite a bit of time in my professional life working with folks from first nations. I think they would be quite surprised indeed to learn that the Reform Party somehow was their spokesperson.

Supply November 22nd, 1999

Madam Speaker, I think it was more of a comment by my distinguished colleague. I thank him for his good work on the committee as we travelled through rural British Columbia. I have great respect for the member. Those watching television right now, including my friend Jeremy from Oakbank, would want to know that the member who just asked the question is an expert in these matters.

We respect the wishes of the people. We have done that with respect to the Nisga'a. They held their own internal process which was outlined in the agreement in principle. They went through that ratification process, voting with members both off and on reserve, as was noted by the member from Burnaby and others today, with an acceptance of 71%. I think that is a good number of to start with.

Supply November 22nd, 1999

Madam Speaker, I would say that perhaps it was not purposeful, that it was not intentional but that it was perhaps systematic. I think I will go to that safe ground and continue.

Moreover, Bill C-9 affirms this provision of the final agreement and notes that our constitution is the supreme law of Canada. This agreement does not and cannot alter our constitution. To suggest otherwise is nonsense. The rights contained in the agreement, including the governance rights of the Nisga'a, will be protected by section 35 of the constitution but the protection of these rights does not alter the constitution.

Brian Slattery, professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, agrees. He says:

There is nothing in section 35 (or indeed elsewhere in the Constitution Act, 1982) to suggest that such treaties and agreements must be implemented by constitutional amendment in order to take effect or to receive constitutional protection.

Peter Hogg, a recognized constitutional law expert and dean of Osgoode Hall, has also publicly said that in his opinion “it would be undesirable to hold a referendum every time a treaty is entered into with aboriginal people”. It is worth repeating that at the beginning of the formation of our country, when the British crown signed treaties on behalf of the King of England there was not a referendum back in England or even a vote for that matter in the House of Commons.

He continues by saying:

These treaties are intended to provide clarity and certainty to aboriginal rights that have been held by aboriginal people since before European settlement. The treaties are long, complicated documents reflecting years of negotiation and much compromise on both sides. It would be very difficult to communicate all the issues in a balanced way in a province-wide referendum.

This was stated by Canada's leading constitutional expert.

How does the opposition party propose to reduce a 500 page legal document to one question? I can just imagine how loaded its over-simplified—and we have seen this after six years in the House—question might look, especially since it appears to be debating a different document than 80% of the rest of us in the House.

What is the point of negotiating treaties at all if the opposition party would have its way?

Mr. Joe Easingwood wrote in the Victoria Times Colonist that “considering it has taken some 30 years, plus intense, complex and emotional negotiation to work out this proposed Nisga'a treaty, how can anyone with an ounce of credibility suggest that the issue can be boiled down to a single question on a referendum?”

A referendum is a totally inappropriate way to deal with a large complex package of provisions such as the Nisga'a treaty. And, the people of British Columbia have already had a voice in negotiations. The Nisga'a negotiations included one of the most extensive consultations and public information exercises ever conducted in the context of treaty negotiations in Canada. Approximately 500 meetings were held in relation to the negotiation of the agreement in principle and final agreement.

Much of the advice from these consultations is reflected in the document before the House. For example, those consulted indicated that they wanted the treaty to represent a final settlement with the Nisga'a people. The final agreement is a full and final settlement of the Nisga'a aboriginal and treaty rights.

Third parties wanted conservation to be a priority in the areas of fisheries and wildlife. The Nisga'a final agreement contains provisions to ensure that federal and provincial ministers retain their overall authority. I will say that again. The federal and provincial ministers retain their overall legislative authority to manage fish and wildlife. Conservation, public health and public safety are identified in the final agreement as top priorities.

There are other provisions contained in the treaty that allow Nisga'a lands to be registered in the British Columbia land title system. We have heard a lot of hollering and yelling about communal systems. This is not true. These provisions are a direct result of third party advice that we have heard, listened to and acted upon.

We also found through consultations that it was important to third parties that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and federal laws such as the criminal code continue to apply. Those do as well.

Third parties in advisory committees also indicated that they wanted all citizens to be subject to the same taxation regimes. Through the final agreement, the Nisga'a will pay taxes in the same way other British Columbians do after a transition period of eight years for sales tax and twelve years for income taxes. And the Nisga'a government receives a tax exemption similar to that provided to municipal governments. What could be more fair? Do we not say that we want all people to be equal? Is this not an important provision that the people of British Columbia would accept when we say that for the first time in Canadian history we have a treaty where the first nations people are saying to the federal and provincial crowns that they will pay those taxes the same way anyone else does? I think that is an honourable and very dignified compromise.

In the past, the federal and provincial governments have entered into many agreements and passed many laws that have far more consequences on the majority of Canadians than will the Nisga'a treaty. Let us take the North American Free Trade, the original Free Trade Agreement or the Columbia River Treaty. None of these were subject to a referendum.

Where referendums have been used in the past, they have been in respect of a single, or at least a relatively narrow set of issues. Compare, for example, the complexity of the Nisga'a treaty with the single question that was posed to the people of Quebec in the referendum on separation.

The Nisga'a treaty is complex. It deals with dozens and dozens of different issues. Within each of these issues there are many complex provisions, compromises and specific arrangements. This sort of package is not conducive to an all or nothing consideration demanded in a referendum vote.

Mr. Ken Georgetti of the B.C. Federation of Labour recognizes the ramifications of a referendum. In his words:

The Nisga'a Final Agreement is one of the most important social and economic developments of the last century—A referendum on the Nisga'a Treaty would be analogous to requiring a public sector union to submit its collective agreement to a province-wide vote.

Of course, to all Canadians this is unacceptable.

The real goal for a referendum is to block the treaty.

Leaders from all walks of life recognize that the Nisga'a treaty is the result of more than 20 years of intense negotiations. The treaty represents a delicate balancing of interests and reflects the compromises and trade-offs made by British Columbia, Canada and the Nisga'a people. It is not possible to re-open or attack one portion of the treaty without undermining the entire agreement.

Early on during the negotiations, Canada, British Columbia and the Nisga'a agreed at the negotiation table on a specific process they would use to ratify the final agreement. We are now, thankfully, in the final stages of that process.

The Nisga'a have ratified the treaty. The province of British Columbia has ratified the treaty with the historical debate in the provincial legislature, some 120 hours of debate, the longest in the history of that legislature.

Now it is Canada's turn to go through the ratification process. This government is committed to concluding treaties with Canada's first people. Treaty making is a federal responsibility under subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1857. The province's involvement is necessary in order to ensure that land and other resources are properly dealt with.

However, the legal reality is that treaty making is a national responsibility that transcends the interests of individual provinces. This is reflected in the fact that the federal government is providing the great majority of money that represents the costs of the treaty. The member for Burnaby—Douglas made that point earlier in the debate today. There is therefore no basis for a provincial referendum in which British Columbians alone would determine whether or not this national endeavour would go forward.

The Nisga'a final agreement represents a fulfilment of more than 20 years of negotiations. The opposition party would have us withdraw our commitment to it. Honourable governments must continue to be honourable. They must follow through on agreements negotiated in good faith. Perhaps the opposition does not share this.

The community of Terrace is the closest neighbouring community to the proposed Nisga'a lands. We heard this morning, this afternoon and throughout the debate that the mayor came to the hearings in Terrace. He appeared before us and under cross-examination we asked him if it was only his view to support it because, as the the member from Skeena says, he is a Liberal. No, that was not true at all. In fact, his six councillors debated a motion put forward by one of them several months ago whether to ratify or not ratify the treaty. It was unanimously agreed to by the Terrace council. It was unanimously agreed to by grassroots politicians to accept the deal.

Further, Joanne Monaghan, regional chair of the district in the Nisga'a area representing 45,000 people and some 40 to 50 politicians in that catchment area, appeared before the committee too. Again under cross-examination, so that we could be very clear about the intentions of local people and grassroots people, she told us that unequivocally and categorically, having thought about it for years and originally not a supporter of treaties, that she supported it. It was good for her, good for her people, good for the area and good for the Nisga'a people. She believed as well that it was good for British Columbia and Canada.

A referendum would be just plain unfair to the Nisga'a people. When the negotiations commenced and when framework agreements were entered into among the parties, the understanding was that the final agreement would be ratified by votes of the Nisga'a nation, the provincial legislature and parliament. We agreed to that and we will have our vote in parliament. The Nisga'a agreement in principle included this understanding. There has never been any suggestion that the Nisga'a final agreement would be passed outside that process.

Why would we subject the Nisga'a to this process at two minutes before the hour? No treaty or land claim agreement in the history of Canada has ever been subject to a provincial or national referendum. By the time all land claims in British Columbia have been settled 30 to 50 treaties will have been signed. Is the opposition saying that it would subject each one of these agreements to a provincial or national referendum? What nonsense. Reasonable people understand how unfair and how foolish it would be to arbitrarily impose such a hurdle on these first nations people.

Canada is a parliamentary democracy. The federal government is composed of members who are elected and accountable to our voters, including the decision that was made on how the Nisga'a treaty would be ratified. The people of Canada elected this government to do the right thing, and we are doing the right thing. We are honouring the terms of the ratification we made with the Government of British Columbia, the people of British Columbia and the Nisga'a people. We are honouring the obligations bestowed upon us by the people of Canada who elected us.

Reformers would have Canadians wrongfully believe in their mythical treaty and renege on their word to the Nisga'a people and the Government of British Columbia. What are they really asking us to do? Are they asking us to perpetuate the status quo in continuing uncertainty in British Columbia? The opposition has proven adept at creating myths and continue to fall flat in making its intentions known for clear and viable alternatives to present to the Canadian people.

It is just not fair. We have an agreement that will work. It is one that is fair and equitable. It was negotiated in good faith. We have every intention of keeping our promise to the Nisga'a people, to the mayor of Terrace and to the politicians in that region who support it. We will keep our promise generally with the people of British Columbia through the legislature and through their due process where this was debated. We will keep our promise to the House and the honour and dignity of the House to do the right thing through both substantive and procedural justice so the treaty will come to the floor of the House.

Reform Party members on the other side will be standing alone with the 21st century only 39 or 40 days away on one of the last pieces of business we will do before returning to our ridings throughout Canada. They will wear the badge going into the new millennium as the only party in the House to oppose progress, to oppose peace among Canada and the first nations people, and to oppose moving them from the backwoods and the doorsteps into the front with all Canadians in the 21st century.

On behalf of my colleagues I want to say that we will not have anything to do with it. We are doing the right thing. We will not be on the side of wrong.

Supply November 22nd, 1999

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to be able to conclude the debate this evening on this motion put forward by the Reform Party.

I just returned to the House after a week of public hearings in the beautiful province of British Columbia. I will begin by thanking all those citizens who participated, both directly and indirectly, in that process and for their views, which have been considered in the House and will be considered throughout the debate on this important process.

I stand before the House today not only to show my personal and the government's support for the proposed legislation to ratify the Nisga'a final agreement, but also to clarify once and for all the many reasons why a referendum in British Columbia would be the wrong thing to do.

I am here to ask: What Nisga'a treaty are the members of the opposition talking about, the real Nisga'a final agreement before us or the mythical one that they purposely continue to misrepresent?

I do not think we can categorize any of the opposition party members as forward-thinkers, least of all their leader. If they had their way they would subject their version of the Nisga'a final agreement to a British Columbia province-wide referendum. They claim that the treaty will be an amendment to the Canadian constitution and that it therefore triggers a referendum under legislation in effect in British Columbia.

If they had read the final agreement, which my minister has suggested today, went out into the communities with those concerned citizens that they purport to represent and worked page by page and paragraph and paragraph through that treaty, they would have come to no other conclusion than that this was not a constitutional amendment.

This is a good treaty. It is good for the people of Nisga'a. It is good for their neighbours who have said so. It is good for the people of British Columbia and, therefore, I believe for all of us. They would see for themselves that section 8 of the general provisions chapter clearly states that the agreement does not alter the constitution. In fact, we put that in the agreement specifically in anticipation of these questions.

Petitions November 22nd, 1999

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to present a petition on behalf of a number of constituents from Edmonton which states that the majority of Canadians understand the concept of marriage as being only the voluntary union of a single, that is unmarried, male and a single, that is unmarried, female, and that it is the duty of parliament to ensure that marriage, as it has been known and understood in Canada, be preserved and protected. Therefore, they ask that the House of Commons and all members pass legislation to that effect.

Petitions November 22nd, 1999

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today on behalf of a number of constituents from Edmonton who have asked me to read three petitions. Two of the petitions deal with children who are victims of separation and divorce.

The petitioners call upon the House of Commons to consider the psychological, social and economic needs of the children. They state that both parents ought to have ongoing access to the children in addition to their responsibilities for the welfare of the children.