Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on this undemocratic motion moved by the hon. member for the Reform Party.
It would seem that the hon. member does not support economic prosperity for British Columbians, as he is suggesting that we delay creating treaties that would remove an obstacle which has hampered economic growth in B.C. for far too long: the uncertainty over ownership of land and resources. That uncertainty has carried a very high price.
In 1990 a Price Waterhouse study asked forestry and mining interests in B.C. about the effects of the uncertainty created by unresolved land claims.
The study's findings are eloquent. In these two sectors alone, the study notes a loss of one billion dollars worth of investments: 300 new jobs in jeopardy, 1,500 permanent jobs on hold, and capital losses totalling $125 million due to uncertainty about the legal status of land and resources.
Since then we continue to pay the price of uncertainty, year after year. It is the price we pay for letting the situation deteriorate and for refusing to sit down with our aboriginal partners and discuss rational solutions to the real problems. That is the price the Reform Party would like us to keep paying.
We now have a chance to do something, to create jobs and to stimulate our economic growth. In September, Marlie Beets of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries had this to say: "Our members know that we cannot afford to ignore the issue of treaties. The forestry industry fully supports the efforts being made to resolve these problems, even if it is concerned about what these treaties may contain".
The forestry industry of B.C. understands what is involved. It knows that it cannot function efficiently without clear policies. It knows aboriginal rights must be defined clearly so that everyone
knows the rules of the game. It knows that the time has come to realize the potential of the province and to extend the opportunity for its people. It wants to get on with it.
The proposition is simple. Treaties will provide certainty and create a better climate for investment and economic growth. This is a reality which cannot be denied. A clear signal will be sent: B. C. is open for business.
Treaties will also provide a land base for aboriginal people and with it a foundation on which to build self-sufficient communities. It will allow aboriginal people to become involved in a range of economic activities which in the absence of a land base have been foreclosed to them.
Commercial activities like mining, forestry and tourism become far more possible to be pursued by First Nations. The growth of strong, self-reliant, economically vibrant aboriginal communities strengthen us all because it will bring positive economic spinovers into non-aboriginal communities.
For too long the aboriginal people of B.C. have been denied both their legal rights from the past and their hopes for the future.
For too long they have suffered as a result of high rates of unemployment, illiteracy, infant mortality and suicide. For too long we have refused to acknowledge their potential contribution to Canadian society. This is an attitude that cannot be justified, and it must stop.
Once rights and obligations have been clearly defined in treaties, all residents of British Columbia, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, will be able to develop the potential of their province and improve their own circumstances. That is good news for forestry workers and miners.
It means a broader tax base, since injecting settlement funds will stimulate the economy and job creation. It also means a reduction in the social cost of poverty and unemployment in aboriginal communities. It means an end to litigation and costly court proceedings and the beginning of co-operation and negotiation.
These historic problems will not disappear at the wave of a magic wand. As long as they remain unresolved, there will be no investment, and the jobs that could and should be created will remain in limbo.
The vicious circle will continue: uncertainty will lead to a reduction in the number of jobs which in turn will increase social problems.
The cycle of poverty and dependency will continue. These issues simply must be dealt with. We have a choice of how we are going to do it. We can litigate at great expense to the Canadian taxpayer knowing that at the end of this long, drawn out and often bitter process a court is likely to tell us to work out the details ourselves, something very similar to the negotiation process we have now.
Or we could negotiate directly from the outset. Surely it makes good economic sense to avoid costly court battles, which cast each party in the role of antagonist, and approach the issues as partners prepared to give and take in a spirit of trust and mutual respect.
There are real economic benefits in proceeding with treaties in B.C. but at the end of the day the most important benefit will not be felt in terms of dollars and cents. It will be felt in the lives of individuals as they are given the opportunity to contribute further to the greatness of Canada.
The benefits of holding a job cannot always be measured by a point on a graph. Having a job is really about hope. It means having the ability to plan for the future and to realize one's potential as well as to advance one's family. It means having the pride of contributing to the overall health of one's community. Is it better to leave things in a state of confusion or to sit down with our aboriginal colleagues and establish certainty?
Perhaps it is expecting too much to hope the Reform Party's vision of Canada is broad enough to include the first peoples or generous enough to expand the circle of opportunity or far sighted enough to see the wisdom in finally completing this great unfinished business of our history. Surely it is not expecting too much to ask the Reform Party to take a hard headed look at the economics of treaty negotiations and admit that it makes real sense.
Surely even Reformers can see the awful price we are paying for uncertainty. Surely even they can see the benefits of negotiation over litigation. I hope they do see these benefits when it comes time to vote on this motion and that they join us in denouncing this short sighted and meanspirited motion.