Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to join in the third reading debate on Bill C-107, an act respecting the establishment of the B.C. Treaty Commission. It is helpful to have the co-operation of the opposition members in support of the bill.
The events of the last few months, whether in B.C. or elsewhere, are convincing that issues of aboriginal rights and land claims can only be resolved through negotiation. It is very important to get on with the process. The sooner we can get the land claims settled, the faster we can get on with economic development and other government issues.
I want to talk about the process upon which we have embarked in British Columbia and also about the importance of the economic development aspects, which need to coincide with this process, and the role in particular, in view of my position as Secretary of State for Science, Research and Development, of science and technology in promoting economic development for First Nations people.
The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has recently visited British Columbia several times, the latest being November 24. During the summer he met with the First Nations Summit to report on the inherent right of self-government policy and he formally signed two of the four framework agreements. The signing of framework agreements with the Champagne and Aishihik, the Sechelt and the Gitksan-Wet'suwet'en First Nations are visible examples of the benefits and results of resolving these issues through negotiation.
Many other First Nations are working on framework agreement negotiations or completing the readiness stage. The government is committed to moving negotiations to conclusion rather than pursuing endless negotiations. That is evident from these recently signed agreements.
About 140 of the almost 200 B.C. First Nations want to sit at the table with federal and provincial governments to solve these issues. That represents over 70 per cent of the First Nations of British Columbia. Of the 47 nations in the process 25 have completed the readiness requirements. In 12 of those the 2 governments have also met our readiness requirements and 9 have completed or are working on framework agreements.
Clearly this process deserves the support of the House so that it can continue toward its goal of reaching acceptable, affordable and fair settlements.
It is important to note that we need fair settlements for all British Columbians and for all Canadians. That is the basis on which we must work.
It is important that third party interests be well taken care of in this process and indeed they are being taken care of. The British Columbia Treaty Commission process is the product of extensive consultations. In 1990 the federal and provincial governments established a task force to come up with a made in British Columbia approach to map out a negotiation process that could accommodate the many First Nations in British Columbia that wanted to negotiate settlements.
The recommendations of the task force were accepted by both governments and the representatives of the First Nations. One of the key recommendations was the establishment of the British Columbia Treaty Commission as an independent keeper of the process.
The task force also made several recommendations on public information and education as well as on consultation. The members recognize that treaty negotiations will succeed if both aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities understand why we need treaties and what those treaties mean.
As the negotiations for framework agreements proceed, governments must obtain background information on the communities, people and interests likely to be affected by the negotiations and establish mechanisms for consultation with non-aboriginal interests. These are among the criteria the treaty commission considers when it assesses the readiness of the parties to begin working toward a framework agreement.
In other words the commission will not give the green light to negotiate unless proper consultation mechanisms are in place. There is already a province-wide treaty negotiation advisory committee which my colleague spoke of but for each claim regional and even local committees are established, and these committees are becoming more and more active as parties move into the framework negotiations.
To date there are advisory committees up and running in Bulkley-Skeena, in Lilloolet-Pemberton, Westbank-Kelowna, the Lower Mainland, on Southeast Vancouver island, the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.
Regional advisory committees are also being formed in Central Cariboo, Kitimat-Skeena, Central Coast, the Desolation Sound area and in the Prince George and Nechako Valley. Clearly third party interests are a central part of the treaty making process in British Columbia.
It seems the demands of some to halt the negotiation process seem aimed at avoiding the issue rather than finding workable and honourable agreements.
The government remains firmly committed to negotiating treaties with First Nations across Canada where needed. We will stay focused on that objective because it is the only way uncertainty can be ended and all British Columbians can benefit.
I will speak for a few minutes on the importance of this process in going forward in economic development and in particular in the potential in the area of science and technology and telecommunications for economic development for First Nations people in British Columbia and elsewhere.
It is important we get through this process, that we sort out the settlements and finalize the situation. It is also important that we start building the economic framework and in particular the telecommunications. The telecommunications, the information highway infrastructure which the government has promoted from the moment we were elected is vitally important for communities in rural and remote regions of Canada and particularly for First Nations communities.
As we outlined early on in our mandate, this information highway infrastructure is essential for jobs and learning in rural areas. It is essential we move quickly in areas of access and it is fundamentally important that we move quickly in developing Canadian content. We need aboriginal First Nation content so First Nations people are not only receivers but providers of content in an increasingly important way.
One major effort we have made is in the SchoolNet process. This process is one to which we are committed to ensure that schools in all First Nations communities are linked to SchoolNet and to the Internet and can join the information highway as one important step not only in learning but in community development as we have moved into the community access program.
In British Columbia there are some important advantages in technology becoming available with ATM networks giving broad band, multimedia access on the information highway.
As recently as last week I was in British Columbia to announce the establishment of the telelearning network centre of excellence, linking communities across Canada and centred at Simon Fraser University. The development of teaching materials on the information highway using the worldwide web and other multimedia tools will enable delivery of learning and jobs at a distance.
In this context it is important to realize a big change is occurring. Universities like Simon Fraser are already putting courses on to the worldwide web so they can be taken from anywhere around the world. In a few years a number of courses will be dramatically increased and therefore the possibility of taking courses and learning materials from anywhere in Canada, from any First Nations community in Canada, will be there and realized.
The people at Simon Fraser are already working on the possibility of having all courses on the worldwide web by the year 2000. If that happens, what a remarkable achievement and what important new access to learning and post-secondary education it would give to people across Canada.
There is another side to the question. Even as the learning material becomes more available it is now more possible and more important to develop learning materials based in and coming from the First Nations people of Canada. This is also an important objective of the SchoolNet program and an important objective of economic development, to enable teaching materials to be shared from one First Nations community to another to develop content
and learning materials which can be very important as cultural expression for First Nations people into the next century.
As we proceed in settling land claims, providing the framework, it is also important we proceed with economic development, with the information highway so that it will allow people across the country and particularly First Nations people access to the information they need when they need it and where they need it.
This will allow better management of natural resources and a remarkable new array of economic development opportunities and jobs, particularly in remote locations, as is already starting to happen in small communities in northern British Columbia and remote communities in Newfoundland, setting up businesses on the information highway and worldwide web and to operate around the world.
It is a very different world from what we have lived in, one fundamental reason it is important to move quickly to settle land claims so we can move forward in development, learning and in new possibilities.
I urge my hon. colleagues to show support for this process, which will bring certainty to the province of British Columbia and renewed hope and prosperity to the people of British Columbia and particularly First Nations' people.