Mr. Speaker, the least we can say about the bill is that from its very inception it has been subject to constant controversy as well as a consistent and profound opposition by the majority of first nations. This is why I strongly endorse the substance of the motion proposed by my colleague from Churchill River to refer Bill C-23 back to committee for re-examination and new hearings. I realize that you have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that the motion as it is framed is not receivable. You have also opened the way for some other procedure to be adopted that would come to the same result, in other words, to refer the bill to committee for new hearings and consultation.
It is clear to me that the systematic opposition that the bill has faced on the part of a large majority of first nations has been compounded by what first nations rightfully contend as inadequate consultation.
I listened to the debate on the bill. I am happy to recognize the broadmindedness of my colleague from the Yukon who backed the bill, naturally as he is the parliamentary secretary. At the same time he expressed a degree of fairness and openness and is ready to listen to arguments on both sides. This is why my colleague from Churchill River and I are speaking from a different viewpoint.
Perhaps we could find it in ourselves to express this feeling of openness and conciliation, that we should listen and hear the voices in opposition that have been expressed on the bill and send it back to the committee for review and re-examination. Nothing would be lost in doing what is proper, right and fair.
The Supreme Court of Canada in such leading cases as Sparrow and Delgamuukw has been clear that the first nations are entitled to full and reasonable consultation when there is a proposed measure likely to affect their rights. Certainly this measure is there to affect their rights. In special cases first nations' consent may be required and if the consultation record is insufficient, the legislative measure may be deemed invalid. This is what the Assembly of First Nations in several resolutions and many first nations acting on their own have contended right from the start.
I am convinced that if the bill is passed into law, it will surely be challenged in the courts. There is a strong likelihood that the statute would be held unconstitutional because of the failure to follow the consultation standard laid down by the Supreme Court of Canada in numerous landmark decisions.
Recent initiatives by the Prime Minister and our government have given fresh hope that a new climate of mutual trust and understanding may be pointing itself on the horizon as between government and our first nations.
Sadly, Bill C-23 conflicts with this new spirit of hope and of a true dialogue and understanding with our first nations. It stands out as an important irritant in a context of what was just yesterday and the day before renewed hope by our first nations spirited by the recent, and I would say courageous, statements and initiatives by our Prime Minister.
When the bill was briefly before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources in 2003, the committee heard from Mr. Fred Lazar, an economist with the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. Dr. Lazar said that he was “adamantly opposed to Bill C-19”, which is now Bill C-23. He said:
So we have taxation, devolution, and control, which is the essence of this proposed bill, all wrapped up in the federal government's limited and historically and legally incorrect view of aboriginal self-government.
Dr. Lazar pointed out that if first nations received their fair share of revenues from resources, the situation would greatly improve.
For several years I have been acting as a volunteer, as a friend, and for two years as a special representative of an Algonquin band not far from here. In 1991, 13 years ago, the band signed a trilateral agreement with the federal government and the Quebec government about the integrated management of the resources on the band's land.
The trilateral agreement happened because suddenly, one day, forestry companies, acting on a management mandate from the Quebec government, started to cut trees on a vast scale on the band's land, which its people have occupied for thousands of years. They rebelled. They blocked the roads and forced the advent of the trilateral agreement, expressing the view that under the Brundtland report, sustainable development was endorsed by all our governments.
The trilateral agreement is viewed by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, by the United Nations itself, as a landmark agreement of its kind. It has been 13 years since its inception and we are still arguing whether or not resources should be shared. We are still arguing about where this first nation will find the resources through grants and subsidies to repair its schools, to build adequate housing, which it badly needs, to find revenues with respect, without having to beg from any governments to have what we take for granted in our lives: that every person has a right to a decent living, to quality of life, to education and to proper health care.
Where do they find these resources? If they are on their own territories, they are not allowed a share of these resources, which they own and which treaties recognize as their own. This is really what the bill is about.
Dr. Lazar rightly said:
The first nations view of the verbal commitments made by both sides was that the lands were to be shared so that both groups could live and prosper together.
This implies at a minimum that the first nations should have received at least half of the revenues and wealth generated by the land and the resources on or below the land. They have not even asked for 50%; they have asked for a share. In the case of the people I know well, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, they would be satisfied with any share of the revenues on their land. They would be satisfied with control of some of their resources so that people would not abuse them, both ecologically and in regard to their long term sustainability.
Dr. Lazar asked whether the bill would provide first nations with the access to capital markets that is available to other governments.
The federal government sees securitization of tax and other long term revenues as a means for the first nations to build up their infrastructure on reserves. Undoubtedly, there is a need for significant investments to upgrade the infrastructure on reserves, but the onus remains on the federal government to fully underwrite these costs. What we ask is not for the federal government to give grants forever, but to give to the people a share of their own resources which belong to them by treaty.
The proposed bill highlights the potential for control over almost all financial affairs on reserves. It appears to be the Trojan horse, enabling the eventual takeover of all spending decisions on reserves by the independent institutions to be created by the bill.
I would like to quote one of the chiefs. Chief Stewart Phillip is president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. He told the committee that 60 first nations who belong to that organization are opposed to the bill. He is the chief of the Penticton Indian Band which is a member community of the Okanagan nation.
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs is the oldest political organization in B.C. Chief Phillip told the committee that Bill C-23 fails to meet the conditions set out in various AFN resolutions--and which have been successively carried out--saying the bill is flawed. I have a set of these resolutions passed over a whole year, time after time in Ottawa, in B.C., and in various parts of the country, repeating again and again that the bill is flawed, that it has not been subjected to adequate consultation and that it should be re-examined or it should fail.
Indeed, a special AFN assembly was convened in Ottawa in November of 2002, two years ago now, for the chiefs in the assembly to make a decision on the first nations financial and statistical management act. It rejected Bill C-23 in its entirety. I will again quote Chief Phillip, who said:
As for the contents of Bill C-19, it is our submission that legislation, especially national legislation, is not necessary for these four institutions to function.
The Indian Taxation Advisory Board and the other boards are already in existence and operating, as far as we know.
I strongly believe that Chief Phillip and his organization express the views of a substantial majority of first nations and that his recommendation is reflected in the very justified motion of my colleague from Churchill River. I hope that somehow I will find a way to implement the substance of his motion.
Let me now review certain of the modifications of the bills which proponents tout as justifying support for it. The new schedule of the bill conveys the impression that three of the institutions in the bill, all but the statistical institute in part 5, are optional and therefore do not prejudice the first nations that choose not to join.
In addition to the deceptive information that the bill has the support of first nations, the so-called opting in feature is touted as another important measure favouring the bill. The implicit message is that even if most first nations do not like it, they should not interfere with the opportunities of those who choose to opt in.
This is clearly misleading.
First, the so-called opting in provision introduced by the schedule amendment does not apply in the case of the statistical institute under part 5. This part is imposed on all first nations or bands in Canada whether or not they are added to the schedule. This is clearly unfair to the overwhelming majority of first nations who oppose the bill. It should be noted that under clause 105 of the bill the federally appointed institute can indefinitely collect and use the most sensitive data about all bands in Canada without their consent.
What about the other three institutions: the tax commission, the management board, and the financial authority? Again the alleged opting in regarding these three institutions is very misleading. In fact, these statutory national bodies will affect the rights and interests of all first nations in Canada whether or not they are added to the schedule. Indeed, these important national institutions will be controlled for the long term, and in fact forever, by a small number of first nations strongly in support of Bill C-23 and aligned with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
The tax commission, which is a federally appointed body, will become the overseer of all future on reserve property taxation bylaws or laws. If the bill is passed, all first nations in Canada that want to develop on reserve property taxation laws and systems will have to seek the approval of this federally appointed commission. All such first nations will have to submit their annual property tax budgets to the commission for approval under clause 9. Surely this affects the rights and interests of all first nations, which belies the argument about the opting in feature.
Clause 13.1, an amendment to Bill C-23 tabled by the minister, may seem to suggest that current property tax provisions in the Indian Act--namely, sections 83 and 84--will continue to be available to communities that do not enlist in the tax commission. However, I question whether, if Bill C-23 is passed into law, two parallel systems will be maintained into the long term.
It is very improbable to think that communities will be permitted to operate for any length of time under the Indian Act regime whilst a new tax commission operates the new, chosen instrument adopted by the federal government.
Perhaps the provision which most significantly disturbs those first nations that oppose Bill C-23 is that of the management board. According to clause 8 of the bill, communities that do not join Bill C-23 are not permitted to pass bylaws or laws dealing with the critical area of financial administration.
Thus, non-opting in communities are restricted to the narrow list of bylaw topics under section 81(1) of the Indian Act, which list does not include financial administration, the very core of local government. In other words, first nations that do not opt in effectively forfeit a key area of local jurisdiction: financial administration.
I referred earlier to the constitutional aspects of the bill which are likely to lead to legal challenges. No doubt the most fundamental problem in this connection is its conflict with the inherent right of first nations to self-government as protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982. Surely the powers granted to the tax commission and to the management board under Bill C-23 are a direct interference with an inherent right of self-government protected by the Constitution and cherished by all first nations as a centrepiece of their fundamental rights as our first citizens.
Supporters of the bill will argue that the recent introduction of a non-derogation clause relating to section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 will fully protect all constitutional rights of first nations. However, there still remains the serious risk that the bill might still infringe the fiduciary duty of Canada to appropriately consult under section 35, which the majority of first nations contends has not taken place, as well as the protection against discrimination under section 15 of the charter, and, most important, the inherent right of self-government of all first nations protected under the Constitution.
I consider that the motion by my colleague from Churchill River--or a substitute for it that he is now negotiating with the Table--is fair and makes eminent sense in the circumstances. It seeks to replace controversy and consistent opposition with consultation, fairness and conciliation. I would like to support its substance most convincingly.
In the time that I am allowed I would like to appeal to all sides of the House for fairness and for conciliation. Surely all these first nations that oppose Bill C-23--and there are hundreds of them reflected in those resolutions that I have read, a great majority of them--represent a voice that cannot be ignored. Surely they have a right to express their position, and surely also they must feel in their heart that something is wrong with the bill.
Who are we here to decide for them as to measures that they themselves do not accept or agree with? Who are we here to say that we know best what is good for them when they tell us that it is not good enough for them? Who are we here to dictate and legislate when such a position is there?
I strongly recommend that we support very actively the substance of the motion of my colleague from Churchill River and send this bill back to committee. We must take time to produce a better bill, one that is acceptable to the people most concerned, the first nations of Canada.