[Editor's Note: Member spoke in Inuktitut.]
Madam Speaker, I rise to address the House on Bill C-60, the Pictou Landing Indian Band Agreement Act. The legislation is being introduced at this time to fulfil the commitments the Government of Canada has made to the Pictou Landing Micmac of Nova Scotia. This legislation will further reduce the potential for any new legal action related to the Boat Harbour issue against the Government of Canada.
Hon. members have seen for themselves that this is not a lengthy or a complex bill. Nevertheless Bill C-60 is important to more than 400 Pictou Landing Micmac and it deserves the consideration and support of hon. members on both sides of the House.
By way of background I would like to briefly outline the history behind the Pictou Landing settlement agreement so that my hon. colleagues can make an informed and responsible decision on Bill C-60.
In the mid-1960s the province of Nova Scotia entered into an agreement with Scott Maritimes Limited to open a pulp and paper mill at Abercrombie Point in Pictou Harbour. As part of that arrangement the province accepted responsibility for treating and disposing of the effluent generated by the mill.
The nearby Boat Harbour tidal estuary was chosen as the most economical site for the effluent treatment facility. All the land around Boat Harbour was expropriated by the Government of Nova Scotia with the exception of reserve lands belonging to the Pictou Landing Micmac.
Rather than expropriate these reserve lands, the provincial government acquired the First Nation's riparian rights through negotiations with the First Nation. It is worth noting that the First Nation was not enthusiastic about the project and the use of Boat Harbour as a holding pond and conduit for pulp mill effluent. It agreed only after intense lobbying by Nova Scotia officials.
After acquiring the First Nation's riparian rights, the province blocked the entrance of the estuary to create a 162-hectare lagoon. This included some 12 hectares of reserve lands that were flooded and lost to the First Nation.
At that time the province paid the Pictou Landing Micmac $60,000 to compensate for the permanent loss of fishing and hunting revenue and other benefits derived from the First Nations' use of Boat Harbour.
Unfortunately, environmental problems began to arise almost immediately after the treatment facility opened. Despite repeated requests by the First Nation, action taken by the province did not effectively correct the problems.
In 1982 the Pictou Landing Micmac submitted a specific claim to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Four years later due to limited progress in negotiating the claim the First Nation filed suit against the Government of Canada for breach of fiduciary duty.
The government pursued an out of court settlement with the Pictou Landing Micmac. Through extensive consultation and co-operation, a fair and equitable settlement was reached. In a community wide referendum in July 1993, members of the First Nation voted 141 to 25 in favour of the agreement.
This agreement is a $35 million settlement which includes a $20 million compensation package. It breaks down as follows: $8 million were earmarked to be distributed among the members of the First Nation for individual compensation. Much of this
money has already been paid out; $9.725 million were placed in a continuing compensation fund to address special claims by members of the First Nation related to the Boat Harbour environmental problems; $2.275 million were allocated to support projects that will benefit the First Nation, including the building of a multi-purpose recreational centre and the establishment of a Pictou Landing economic development promotional package. These moneys are intended to compensate the members of the First Nation for general impacts associated with the Boat Harbour facility.
The remaining $15 million in the settlement has been directed into a community development trust fund that will enable members of the First Nation to relocate if necessary. This fund is being administered by the First Nation itself and will ensure that the First Nation and its members will be able to protect themselves from any future health effects from Boat Harbour.
The agreement also provides for programs to monitor the environmental and health effects of the Boat Harbour system. The First Nation is one of the main participants in the establishment and the ongoing implementation of these monitoring programs. In addition, although not a condition of the settlement, the federal government undertook to explore ways which might yield a solution to the environmental problem with respect to Boat Harbour.
Hon. members should be aware that this settlement agreement is self-implementing. In other words it does not require legislation to come into force.
I am pleased to inform the House that implementation of the agreement has been proceeding well. Most of the settlement funds have been transferred to the First Nation, giving it the means to develop and administer programs to improve conditions on reserve.
Although this agreement is self-implementing, at the request of the Pictou Landing Micmac, the government made a commitment to confirm two of the agreement's provisions through legislation. That is the purpose of Bill C-60.
Specifically, legislation is required to confirm that the settlement agreement is the sole source of compensation for claims related to Boat Harbour. This legislation ensures that any claims of members of the First Nation beyond those already settled by the payments to individuals can only be made against the $9.725 million continuing compensation fund. This is very important because it ensures that the settlement amount of $35 million is the full amount the federal government will pay related to the Boat Harbour claim.
In addition to releasing the Government of Canada from further claims by members of the First Nation, Bill C-60 also protects the First Nation against such claims by specifying that any such claims are to be directed to the compensation fund.
The second thing Bill C-60 will do is ensure that settlement funds are not Indian moneys as defined by the Indian Act. This again is important because it confirms that the First Nation and not the federal government has control of and responsibility for the moneys once they have been transferred. Trust funds managed by the Pictou Landing Micmac are currently holding those compensation dollars that have not been paid to individuals.
This provision of Bill C-60 actually accomplishes two goals. First, it meets the government's commitment to give the First Nation complete control over the settlement moneys as intended by the settlement agreement. At the same time it reduces the administrative responsibilities of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
I want to assure hon. members that this legislation imposes no new responsibilities on the Government of Canada. It simply confirms and formalizes some elements of an agreement signed in July of 1993 that is already being implemented.
I also want to assure the House that Bill C-60 will have no impact with respect to the correction of environmental problems at Boat Harbour. The federal government continues to work actively with other parties and in particular the province of Nova Scotia and the First Nation to facilitate a solution to these problems.
As hon. members are no doubt aware the government is currently participating in discussions with Scott Maritimes Limited, the province of Nova Scotia, the Pictou Landing Micmac and other interested parties to identify possible solutions to the environmental problems at Boat Harbour. I am optimistic that this will lead to the development of an effective rehabilitation strategy.
Bill C-60 is essentially an administrative bill that fulfils two specific commitments requested by the First Nation and agreed to by the Government of Canada in the Pictou Landing settlement agreement of July 1993. As I mentioned at the outset it is not a complex or far reaching act. Nevertheless, hon. members should recognize that failure to proceed with the bill could impose obligations on the government down the road.
For example, without Bill C-60, the Government of Canada might be open to claims over and above the $35 million settlement figure. There will be no legally certain basis to prevent members of the First Nation from seeking additional compensation in the future.
Our failure to proceed with Bill C-60 might also mean that the First Nation could be liable for payments beyond the amounts it has received in the settlement. This would impose an unnecessary and perhaps unmanageable hardship on it.
Finally, if Bill C-60 does not become law, the government could ultimately become responsible for managing the settlement funds on behalf of the Pictou Landing Micmac. This would create a needless administrative burden and could lead to additional legal problems. It would also likely sour relations with the Pictou Landing Micmac as it would go against the spirit of the Boat Harbour final agreement and their desire to manage their own affairs.
For these reasons alone I urge my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting Bill C-60. I would remind them of the fundamental need for government to fulfil its outstanding commitments to First Nations, including the commitment to legislate these provisions of the Boat Harbour final agreement.
Hon. members are well aware of the government's intention to build a new partnership with aboriginal peoples based on trust, mutual respect and participation in decision making processes. Living up to our commitments is critical to the process of building a new relationship with aboriginal people that will take us into the next century. The House can contribute to that process by supporting this legislation.