Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time this night with the member for Peace River.
I am very happy to have the privilege of speaking in favour of Bill S-6 tonight. As with most of our legislation, some of the main criticisms of this bill have to do with myriad problems this bill neither solves nor addresses. The irony, of course, is that those bills that avoid this criticism are criticized for addressing too much and receive the despised label of omnibus bill. I will save the opposition a bit of time and point out what the bill would not do.
This bill would not ensure good government in the first nations that adopt it. It would not guarantee that tribal councils and chiefs elected under this system will be wise. It would not, on its own, solve poverty or racism or ensure that every person under the act would receive a good education. It would not guarantee the independence and prosperity of those first nations that adopt it. No single bill can do all of these things on its own.
This bill would, however, provide a necessary framework to allow for good government, the selection of wise leaders, the enactment of just laws and the increase in independence and prosperity for those first nations whose electoral systems are still governed by the Indian Act.
Today there are 617 first nations in Canada. Thirty-six are self-governing and hold elections according to their own self-government agreements. There are 343 first nations that select their leaders under their own community-based systems, most of which have a specific election code developed within and by the first nation itself. Unfortunately, the 238 first nations that still hold elections under the Indian Act have been held back from achieving their full potential because of the limitations of the Indian Act's election system.
This system was created at a time when the federal government had no intention of allowing first nations to have any real sense of self-governance and therefore did not need to provide conditions that ensured fairness, stability or legitimacy. Some of the weaknesses in this old election system have led to leadership with low credibility and high instability and such problems as having only two-year terms of office, a loose nomination system, a mail-in ballot system that is open to abuse and no defined offences or penalties relating to election fraud.
Virtually no first nations are satisfied with the current system, but this bill gives first nations three options to choose from.
The communities that hold their elections under the Indian Act have the following choices.
The first option is self-government, the ideal scenario, but that goes far beyond simply determining their own election system. The second choice is to develop a community election code. Unfortunately, due to varying capacity, not all first nations are in a position to take advantage of either of the first two options. That leaves them with the third option, which is to simply carry on operating under the Indian Act system, complete with its long list of problems. The third option is not really an option at all, and many first nations are frustrated.
That is why we need this bill, which gives these communities a third viable option if they cannot choose one of the first two options.
The first nations elections act would allow first nations currently operating under the Indian Act to hold elections under a legislated system that would be strong, modern and comparable to municipal, federal and provincial government election systems.
First nations have been calling for this solution for many years. They even made recommendations advocating such legislation. Those recommendations form the foundation of this bill.
Bill S-6 would provide a reliable, consistent, modern approach to elections in first nation communities that would increase the transparency, legitimacy and stability of their governments, which is a necessary precondition of independence and prosperity.
The first important aspect of this legislation is that first nations could opt in. They could choose to use the system.
It is not mandatory.
For those first nations that did opt in, the band council would now have four-year mandates instead of two. This would go a long way toward improving political stability in their communities and would foster a better climate for economic development and long-term investment.
The bill would also tighten up the nomination process. Right now, many tribal elections have literally hundreds of people running for a 12-member council, making the election results, in many cases, statistically arbitrary. This comes from the fact that one person can sign dozens of nominations. He or she does not have to be choosy when nominating candidates.
Furthermore, a single person can run for chief, tribal council and any other position available at the same time. This legislation would restrict the number of candidates any one person could nominate and would allow a given candidate to run in only one position in any given election.
Bill S-6 would also remove the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs from the elections appeals process. Just as in provincial and federal elections, the power to set aside elections and to appeal those decisions would rest with the courts, where it belongs. This is a judicial matter and should not be in the hands of a legislator or the executive branch.
Finally, believe it or not, under the current system, things such as electoral fraud, ballot-box stuffing, buying and selling of mail-in ballots, bribes, et cetera, are not expressly forbidden. The bill would finally prohibit specific offences and would attach definite penalties for corrupt activities that interfered with the electoral process.
Anyone who engages in those kinds of activities will no longer be able to get away with it. They will be forced to face the consequences of their actions.
The first nations elections act would enable first nations communities, if they chose, to put in place a more reliable, consistent and legitimate system of elections. This would make it possible for members of these first nations communities to add transparent, accountable and effective chiefs and councillors as part of a more stable, respectable and reliable government. This would lead to confidence in government and in the community itself. It would inspire community members and outside investors to invest in these communities and to even bring their businesses and their business operations to these communities, which would bring about real, measurable benefits to first nations people, such as jobs, high-paying jobs, overall prosperity and higher tax revenue. That, in turn, would help pay for infrastructure, which would increase jobs, high-paying jobs, overall prosperity and higher tax revenue, which in turn would help pay for infrastructure. The cycle would go on. It would also pay for education, the arts and our cherished social programs.
The key to realizing these benefits is political stability and predictability, but most important, political legitimacy. Bill S-6, by providing the necessary framework, would make it possible.
In addition to our federal and provincial electoral systems, most of us in the House live in communities in which the political conditions for economic prosperity are taken for granted. So imbedded are these characteristics in our local governments and the electoral systems of those jurisdictions that we do not even notice them. We do not appreciate the extent to which they are transparent, accountable and legitimate and therefore make us ready to seize economic opportunities.
Unfortunately, not all first nation communities enjoy similar political conditions and therefore cannot seize their economic opportunities and seize control of their own lives.
It is time that changes. It is time for first nation elections to be reformed, and it is time to provide the legislative framework that would allow their governments to truly foster the conditions necessary to chase away corruption and attract prosperity.
I urge all of my hon. colleagues to vote in favour of Bill S-6 and in favour of an open, transparent, and accountable government for all Canadians.