Mr. Speaker, today I have the privilege of speaking in support of Bill S-6, the first nations elections act. Before I start, I would note that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Winnipeg South.
The bill we have before us today is the result of a comprehensive process of engagement that stretches back more than four years. I think that raises a question as to how fast we are trying to ram something through the House, when its birthdate was four years ago.
First nations community leaders and members across Canada have all had input on the bill. The engagement that took place over these years, led by first nations organizations with the support of the government, has allowed Bill S-6 to be inspired and developed, in large part by the people it would affect most, first nations community members.
It is the participation of first nations individuals and organizations that I would like to highlight today. In particular, I would mention the determination of the two first nations organizations, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, under the leadership of former Grand Chief Ron Evans, and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs.
Individually at first, and then together with the support of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic policy congress, this legislation evolved.
These organizations began their work in their home regions. Convinced of the need for electoral reform, they consulted at length with local leaders and communities. The quality and scope of regional consultations, and the similarity of their recommendations, encouraged the government to ask the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic policy congress to carry on the process and jointly lead a national engagement.
The aim of the Canada-wide effort was to share the recommendations of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic policy congress and to seek the input and support of other first nation leaders and organizations across the country. With the support of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs focused its efforts in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, while the Atlantic policy congress covered Ontario and Quebec.
If the opposition should question the extent of this engagement, l would suggest that they look no further than British Columbia. Former Grand Chief Ron Evans of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and his team, sat down first with the chief negotiators at the First Nations Summit in North Vancouver. The team then met with the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council on Vancouver Island. They appeared before the British Columbia First Nations Summit assembly, and the Chiefs' Council of the union of British Columbia chiefs.
I would also add that the consultations undertaken by both the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic policy congress included more than just chiefs and band council leaders. From the very beginning, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic policy congress reached out to individual band members across Canada. Their concern was not just with the steps in the engagement process that underpin the first nations elections act, but also the tools and mechanisms of engagement.
With dedicated modules on their respective websites, they outlined the recommendations and provided the reasoning behind each of them. With the addition of a simple feedback form, it was possible for individuals to express their ideas and thoughts about the initiative being proposed.
The government placed high value on this feedback during development of Bill S-6. The first nations elections act is not only informed by engagement, it is a stellar example of the benefits of engagement. It is an example of how collaborative efforts among first nations people, their leaders, their representative organizations and the federal government can devise solutions and achieve common objectives. It demonstrates the clarity that emerges from an open and authentic sharing of ideas.
Consider the consensus that flowed from this national effort. First nations people and their communities across Canada identified the same weaknesses in the Indian Act election system. Both groups of individuals found, first of all, that two-year terms of office were not satisfactory. A loose nomination system was not good. A mail-in ballot system was open to abuse and no defined offences and penalties were in place at that time.
The recommendations presented to the department, in 2010, by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic policy congress are astonishingly similar. As a result, there is widespread agreement on the path to an effective and meaningful electoral reform agreement, which is now before the chamber in the form of Bill S-6. It is reform that would provide first nations with a solid legislative alternative to the Indian Act. It would create a truly democratic, open and transparent electoral system that would benefit first nations communities.
I also want to draw attention to the concurrent and complementary work of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. The committee's report, entitled “First Nations Elections: The Choice is Inherently Theirs”, is based on testimony delivered at approximately 20 public hearings in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario. These hearings ensured even greater opportunities for concerned citizens to weigh in on issues related to first nations electoral reform. In addition, these hearings and the committee's detailed report further legitimized the comprehensive process of enlightenment and engagement at the heart of the legislation.
Bill S-6 responds directly to a recommendation provided by the Senate committee and to several recommendations provided by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic policy congress. It is informed by the feedback obtained from national engagement efforts. One noteworthy recommendation was for longer terms of office. With this longer term, first nations governments will be much more stable and better positioned, to not only work on their long-term plans, but to solidify other aspects of their governments as well.
Once the whole package is examined, I am sure the House will agree they can effectively hear and decide upon first nations elections as well. Indeed, the first nations elections act would honour the process by which it was created. It is legislation that results from a progressive electoral reform initiated to address weaknesses in the Indian Act and to bring modern governance to first nations.
Our government has brought forward this legislation as a legislative alternative, particularly for those first nations currently operating under the Indian Act It would allow them to hold elections under a legislative system that is strong and modern, and comparable to municipal, provincial and federal election systems in Canada. I commend the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Atlantic policy congress for their efforts on behalf of all first nations communities, and for showing all Canadians how an open, collaborative and participatory process can help propel a matter as complex and fundamental to our democracy as electoral reform.
I am counting on all members of the House to show their support for the hard work of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Atlantic policy congress by the adoption of Bill S-6.