Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-641, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples act. It is a bill that calls on the government to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I am the member of Parliament for Yukon, and nearly 25% of my constituents are first nations people. Members can be assured that I understand how important it is that our government upholds aboriginal rights.
In my speech today, I will be outlining several of the key ways that our government is already setting the standard when it comes to honouring these rights.
To begin with, we take great assurance from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the rights and freedoms of all individuals, including aboriginals. Moreover, section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, specifically recognizes and affirms existing aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations, Inuit, and Métis in Canada.
As encouraging as this may be, our Conservative government has not been content to leave aboriginal rights and protections here. It has done much more.
I remind my hon. colleagues that it was this government that finally rectified a long-standing injustice related to the Canadian Human Rights Act, a law dating back to 1977. Our government repealed section 67 of the act, a section that effectively exempted the Indian Act from its scrutiny. In doing so, it has given first nations people affected by the Indian Act full access to Canadian human rights law. Indeed, at no time in Canadian history have aboriginal rights been as strong as they are now, and that is largely thanks to this Conservative government.
This is not the only example of how our government's efforts have been maintained to protect and promote the rights of aboriginal people. For instance, in collaboration with first nations people and communities, we developed legislation to address an unacceptable and discriminatory practice. Of course I am referring to the legislative gap regarding matrimonial real property rights on reserves. The Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act guarantees that individuals on reserves, especially women, have rights and protections comparable to other Canadians when it comes to matrimonial real property.
This is real, tangible work that not only protects aboriginal rights but also protects aboriginal people. This legislation remedied a gap in our country's legislative framework that led to many women on reserves being denied ownership of, and even access to, their homes when their conjugal relationships broke down. To assist first nations communities, we have established the arm's-length Centre of Excellence for Matrimonial Real Property.
At the request of first nations, our government also passed the First Nations Elections Act. The legislation provides, for the first time, a strong, open, and transparent first nations electoral system that is comparable to Canada's federal election system. Aside from upholding voters' rights to free and fair elections, the act supports the political stability necessary for first nations governments to make solid business investments, carry out long-term planning, and build relationships.
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act has further strengthened first nations residents' rights and freedoms. This legislation, which also came about at the request of first nations, is increasing transparency and accountability among first nations leaders, empowering community members, and making their governments more effective. Unsurprisingly, this bill, one that provides basic financial transparency on reserve, was opposed by both the NDP and the Liberal Party.
We have also initiated innovative processes to advance treaty negotiations and reconciliation. It is now possible to negotiate incremental treaty agreements, and there is a clear procedure for resolving disputes that stem from conflicts in treaty claims.
Of course, respectful negotiation is not anything new for our government. We have consistently negotiated with first nations to fulfill the fundamental rights of these communities over their traditional lands and waters and over resources on those lands and waters. Since 2007, more than 100 specific claims have been resolved through negotiated agreements. I know that the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is particularly proud of this accomplishment. That is because much of the progress that we have made in resolving these claims was done to eliminate a backlog left behind by the previous Liberal governments.
As well, this government appointed a ministerial special representative to work with aboriginal groups, provinces, territories and key stakeholders to renew and reform the comprehensive land claims policy.
Our government has also taken steps to expedite the negotiation of treaties by making important changes to Canada's own source revenue policy, resuming treaty fisheries negotiations in British Columbia and employing an additional approach to achieving certainty that was developed in partnership with negotiation partners.
Since 2006, six comprehensive land claims agreements and one stand-alone self-government agreement have been signed between the Government of Canada and first nation and other aboriginal governments and groups.
Clearly, more than simply aspiring to realize the goals of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we are clearly advancing this agenda. We are making progress on multiple fronts, from human rights and matrimonial property rights, to free and fair elections, to increased financial accountability for first nation officials, to treaty and land claim negotiations.
Despite all of the work that has already been accomplished to advance aboriginal rights, I would be remiss if I did not join my colleague from Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, in discussing the potential danger of adopting the bill.
As he mentioned in his speech, the danger stems largely from article 19 of the UNDRIP. The threshold that the bill sets for aboriginal consultation to seek the free, prior and informed consent of aboriginal people is too high. Even the Supreme Court of Canada agrees. It has been clear that while there certainly exists a duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate, there is no duty for the government to secure consent before advancing legislation.
More shocking is that article 19 would give first nations an effective veto over any legislation that our government or any government at all would bring forward.
Our government has been working since we were elected to uphold aboriginal rights, but unlike the opposition parties, we believe in responsible government and understand that these rights have to be balanced against the rights and interests of all Canadians.
For these reasons, I urge all members of the House to support our government in defeating the bill.