Mr. Speaker, as you mentioned, this is a continuation of the speech I began last night on this critically important issue that affects some of the most underprivileged citizens of our country.
The land claims issue is important for fundamental justice. Will the resolution of land claims ultimately affect the present social and economic problems that act as an anchor attached to the ankles of aboriginal people from coast to coast? I would submit that it will not.
There are other larger structural problems to which solutions have to be put in place to enable aboriginal people to be integrated, not assimilated, into Canadian society. Without that, these people, who now live in some of the worst social and economic conditions in Canada, cannot become part of the 21st century economy.
The current Indian Act is a rock tied to the ankle of aboriginal people. It is so bizarre, so restrictive, so offensive, so unfair. We, as non-aboriginals, would never tolerate such a structure. It does not enable aboriginal communities to be masters of their own destiny. They have an act which sits above them, that rules their lives, that restricts their ability for economic development, that impedes their ability to have the same rights as we have. This contributes to some of the fundamental horrific problems that we see in aboriginal communities across our country.
I will cite one example that the may want to consider. I have written to him about an urgent situation at the Pacheedaht reserve in my riding. On the Pacheedaht reserve a catastrophe is taking place right now. The reserve does not have a secure water system. The houses are rotting. Mould is infesting the homes. We know that the incidence of tuberculosis in these kinds of sick homes is much higher than in other communities. This is an urgent situation. It is a health crisis on this reserve. It demands the urgent attention of the Department of Indian Affairs now. Without this attention, people will get sicker and they will die.
I was on the reserve a couple of weeks ago. The day before I got there, a woman was raped. Tragically, that is not an uncommon situation on this reserve. Children are sexually abused. Alcohol and drug abuse is endemic. Unemployment rates are double digit and through the roof. There is no hope. When we look into the eyes of the children on this reserve, we have to ask, do these children have any chance, any hope, of getting out of this hellhole? The answer is no, they do not.
Let me provide a few solutions that may be of benefit.
Number one, we have to remove the Indian Act. It should be scrapped. The AFN should be tasked with, and funded for, providing a list of those groups that can provide constructive solutions and capacity building on and off reserve for aboriginal people.
One of the cruel things that exists is that while responsibilities have been downloaded to aboriginal communities for health care, social services and other structures, too often they do not have the capacity to execute those duties and responsibilities that have been placed upon their shoulders, so they outsource them to individuals. Too often they have no idea whether the band manager is competent or whether the capacity building individuals are any good. Too often I have seen people who are shysters, frankly, go in and engage in fraud. They take money from the reserve and do not provide the needed capacity building.
The AFN and the Department of Indian Affairs should make a list of those groups and individuals who have the proven ability to provide strong capacity building on aboriginal reserves. There should also be a list of those people who are not approved, those people who have gone around the country and frankly committed fraud. Those people should be prosecuted, but a reserve could not do that, because the reserve would not have the resources to do so. The RCMP should be tasked with going after these people.
The aboriginal peoples have some beautiful territory. They have some in my riding in Sooke, Beecher Bay and Pacheedaht. I would tell the aboriginal leaders to take chances and start public-private partnerships. Health care is a good example because there is an enormous need for health care on reserves. This would provide a revenue general stream of money and a clean and environmentally sound industry that would go on in perpetuity.
If aboriginal leaders were to do that, they would be able to provide a source of economic opportunity for their people now and into the future. They could negotiate contracts and the resources could be used to build up the capacity within their own communities. This would provide them with the wealth and security to do what they want.
Aboriginal leaders should take a chance and participate in public-private partnerships. Private-public medical care would be one option. They have the chance to do this now.
The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs should have an investment fund that would be managed with the AFN. This fund would provide aboriginal leaders with the resources they need to provide the economic development their communities require. They cannot do that at the present time.
A dynamic young chief, Russ Chipps, lives in Beecher Bay in my riding. Many children in his community have been sexually abused and the whole community has been damaged as a result. However, I must give Chief Chips credit because he is reaching out and asking the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs for help. The youth in that community need hope and they need opportunity. Now that the chief and council are reaching out for help, it is incumbent upon the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs to work with them effectively.
Many of us who have reserves in our communities all know that the social conditions are utterly appalling. These are conditions that would never be tolerated in non-aboriginal communities. The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs is such an ossified structure that if people on reserve try to engage in some economic development they could not do it because the department is so onerous. It takes four times longer for people on reserve to do the same kind of economic planning as someone off reserve. They need to navigate through at least six different federal departments. What kind of nonsense is that? How can these people possibly get on their feet and move forward with that kind of structure?
I would ask the to put back the money that he took out of the AFN. It cannot do its job as a result of the more than $1 million in cuts that have taken place. I would ask him to work with the AFN to establish some of the economic and social initiatives that are required and are being asked for by the aboriginal peoples. That kind of relationship would enable the people on the ground to have the hope and security they require. Without that, nothing will change and the horrible conditions that too many people on and off reserves are enduring will continue.
We know that off reserve aboriginal people only receive about 3.5% of funding from the Department of Indian and Norther Affairs. They need hope and they need opportunity. I urge the minister and his department to work with these people to give them the hope and opportunity that all of us deserve, need and have a right to secure.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join today's debate on .
My modest contribution is not about to significantly alter this bill. After all, my colleague from is the Bloc Québécois critic for aboriginal issues, and he has worked hard to move this file forward. I know that the Bloc Québécois is also supporting this bill. And so I would like to congratulate my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue for all of his work. You should also know that he is a lawyer. As this bill concerns a tribunal, I am sure that his expertise was an asset, notably at committee, in creating the bill that we have here today.
As with all bills, there are most likely flaws. Nothing in this world is perfect. And often, even when we think a bill is perfect, we see some measures that could be different, improved even, once the bill is implemented. However, one thing is clear: this is a step in the right direction, and so the Bloc Québécois has decided to support this bill.
Throughout my speech, I will point out certain shortcomings, or rather, areas for improvement, particularly with respect to aboriginal affairs. Unfortunately, even now, in 2008, there are many problems that are just as prevalent and just as serious. Yesterday, I listened to several speeches by my colleagues in the House of Commons. Members on both sides realized that there is still a lot of work to do, and that is why we have to participate in this debate in order to improve aboriginals' quality of life across Canada and Quebec.
In 2004, deputy Indian affairs critic was my first portfolio, and I was also the globalization critic. Quite frankly, I knew very little about the portfolio. As a former reporter, I was interested in all kinds of current events, but I did not have a very good understanding of that portfolio.
However, I had the opportunity and good fortune to work with the first aboriginal person from Quebec to be elected to the House of Commons in 2004, Bernard Cleary. I worked with him on the Indian affairs file. Mr. Cleary was a negotiator for aboriginals for 40 years. Naturally, he participated in a lot of negotiations with governments. As a result, he knew what he was talking about in the House, during committee meetings and during meetings with the minister and first nations representatives. He set a very good example not only in his approach to negotiation, but also in his approach to problems that were often absolutely dreadful.
In committee, in my earpiece, I have heard interpreters cry because we were talking about what had happened in the residential schools. Mr. Cleary taught me to evaluate these situations and to treat them and the people we met with great respect. He was a good teacher. That is not the reason I am talking about this issue today, but I wanted you to understand why I care so much about Indian affairs.
Without further ado, I would like to talk briefly about the objectives of Bill . The purpose of this bill is to create an independent tribunal, the specific claims tribunal. It also seeks to bring greater fairness to the way specific claims are handled in Canada and to expedite the resolution process. Bill C-30 is therefore designed to improve and expedite the specific claim resolution process in Canada. Since 1947, a number of joint and Senate committees have recommended creating such an independent tribunal to resolve specific claims. Moreover, I learned that the first nations have been talking about and calling for such a tribunal for more than 60 years.
Negotiations will still be the preferred method of resolving claims. This is important, because we know that the first nations prefer to negotiate with the federal government. The tribunal would have the power to hand down binding decisions when claims are not accepted for negotiation or negotiations fail. Briefly, that is the overall objective of this bill, which represents a step forward on this issue.
The Bloc Québécois has always had a very clear position not only on this bill, but on aboriginal affairs in general. The testimony the committee heard answered some of our initial questions. As I said, to us, no bill is perfect, and bad faith on the legislator's part is not necessarily to blame for imperfections. But we often find that there is a need for improvement. That is why, in committee, my colleague from and the deputy critic improved the bill.
The bill would establish the specific claims tribunal, which would make binding decisions. It could expedite the resolution of 784 claims. That is quite something, and that is why this bill must be passed.
Canada's first nations had some involvement in creating this bill. This may pose a problem. Although there was some first nations involvement, I know that the first nations of Quebec and Labrador unfortunately did not take part in the negotiations.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of passing Bill , but I have two important points I would like to discuss.
The federal government must properly consult first nations before introducing any bill that may affect them. It needs to do the consultation itself in order to start the reconciliation process. The Bloc Québécois would like to remind members that the government did not hold proper consultations for Bill ; the government should develop a real structure for consultation with first nations. Each time there is a first nations bill, the government must negotiate with them and develop a strict and well-established system so that later on, no one can point to a lack of communication between the government and first nations peoples.
The Bloc Québécois would also like to remind members that the bill is connected to a political agreement between the and the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations in relation to special claims reform. We are very interested in seeing how the government follows through on this agreement and, in particular, the commitments it has made.
I would like to mention some interesting statistics that will show how important it is that we move forward with this bill.
Since 1973, 1,297 special claims have been filed and 513 have been resolved. To resolve these claims, Canada has paid between $15,000—the lowest amount—and $125 million, for an average of $6.5 million per claim.
Of these claims, 284 have been resolved through negotiation, and 229 by other means, either through an administrative avenue or through closing the case. As I was saying earlier, there are currently 784 unresolved claims, and they are targeted in this bill.
Of the claims in process, 138 special claims are in negotiation across the country, and 34 are being handled by the Indian Specific Claims Commission. Those are the statistics.
I repeat, numerous claims and many problems still need to be resolved. The timing on this is good—or bad, depending on which side of the fence you are on—because last week, on May 6, the Auditor General released her report, which obviously looked into the matter of aboriginal children. I say “obviously” because this situation urgently demands greater efforts on the part of the government.
I would like to read a bit from that report. In chapter 4, the Auditor General points out that a number of problems remain to be resolved. I will also be talking about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That is another question that must be looked at much more carefully by this government, which still refuses to sign the declaration.
In chapter 4, which is entitled “First Nations Child and Family Services Program—Indian and Northern Affairs Canada”, the Auditor General reviews how the department manages the program through which it provides services to first nations children and families on reserves.
In accordance with federal government policy, these services must comply with provincial legislation and standards, must be comparable to services provided in similar circumstances to children living off reserve and of course must be culturally appropriate for first nations peoples.
Chapter 4 of the Auditor General's most recent report shows that funding for child welfare services on reserves is not fulfilling the federal government's obligations. It also shows that more than 5% of first nations children living on reserves in Canada are under the care of community or provincial child welfare services, for a total of over 8,000 children every year. This proportion is eight times higher than children in care off reserves. I said earlier that the situation must be resolved without delay, or at the very least, greater efforts made to improve it. The Auditor General is appealing for help. She is speaking out on behalf of these children and families, who still face this very serious problem.
The Auditor General noted that Indian and Northern Affairs had not analysed and compared on-reserve services with those offered in neighbouring communities. That must be corrected. In addition, the department had not identified the other health and social services available to support child welfare services on the reserves. Once again, the message is intended for the government.
In fact, the needs of children taken into care by first nations organizations vary considerably. Some children and their families do not receive the services they need because the funding formula for these services is outdated. The Auditor General made another point: the funding formula for on-reserve services has not been modified since 1988 even though the first nations have the highest birth rate in the country.
Finally, I raised another point: the Auditor General recommended that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada should resolve the differences with Health Canada related to their respective funding responsibilities for children in care. This may be a problem of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. There must be more concerted communication among departments to ensure that the changes requested by the Auditor General are carried out.
We do not really need the Auditor General to know all about the problems of drinking water, housing, addiction, suicide and so forth, because the media unfortunately keep us well informed. This information is useful but once we have it what do we do? Although we may not need the Auditor General to point this out, she has nevertheless targeted other problems that the general public may not familiar with or that do not receive as much media coverage. Nevertheless, with regard to these problems, we note once again that the most vulnerable often pay the price for the government's lax approach. In speaking of the most vulnerable I am also referring to the weakest: children are among those calling for help.
Earlier I was talking about the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is another example of an area where the government should be demonstrating a lot more leadership. There simply is no leadership there. Only four countries in the world have refused to sign the declaration and, unfortunately, to our great shame, Canada is one of those countries. Canada still has not ratified this important Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I read that more than 100 jurists and experts have criticized the Conservative government's lack of leadership and pointed out in an open letter that this government's legal arguments to justify its refusal do not hold water.
The Conservatives give very little importance to recognizing human rights. In addition to refusing to ratify the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they have also abolished the court challenges program, the preferred tool of minorities wanting to exercise their rights, and let us not forget the government's draconian funding cuts to Status of Women Canada and to the aboriginal literacy program.
There is no use in the government talking about how very important it is to help aboriginals, to improve their conditions and quality of life, when it keeps cutting and cutting. Otherwise, who will pay the bill?
Obviously those who would have received the services that have been abolished, that is who. In this specific case, refusing to become involved more specifically in the services offered to aboriginals will not improve the situation.
The United Nations has worked patiently and thoroughly, together with aboriginal peoples, for more than 20 years to come up with this tool for defending aboriginal rights. Unfortunately, the government is rejecting all this work out of hand.
We have another warning for the government. We are supporting Bill , which is a step in the right direction. In the meantime, the government and its minister have to understand that the situation is not getting any better. Even though this bill is a step in the right direction as far as specific claims are concerned, the government's policy falls short when it comes to aboriginal rights.
Something really shocks me, and I want to choose my words very carefully. I learned yesterday that this government is prepared to invest $30 billion in military equipment. At the same time, Status of Women Canada programs are being slashed, the court challenges program was eliminated and there have been cuts in aboriginal literacy programs. Certainly people do not understand what is going on. I want to choose my words very carefully. Here is my point: I am not saying that we should not have a defence policy, but the problem is that the policy still does not exist. All that is being done is to announce that $30 billion will be invested over a 20-year period to buy all sorts of equipment.
First, there should be a very precise foreign affairs and national defence policy, so that we can determine what we need. Yesterday, in fact, some of the soldiers who attended the 's press conference spoke publicly, as the newspapers reported today, saying this was just a sprinkling of money. They say they will be buying planes or this or that other equipment, but no one is sure whether this is the equipment that is really needed in the field. There has to be some housecleaning done in this regard. I will end my parenthetical comment here so as not to confuse things.
On the one hand, we see this pathetic situation on the aboriginal reserves, where there are people whom we should be looking after, since the federal government is trustee for the aboriginal peoples. On the other hand, we get announcements of billions and billions of dollars for military equipment. There is a big disconnect, an enormous gulf between the public's real needs and this government's goals.
To get back to the bill, I want to say that the Bloc Québécois supports the aboriginal peoples in their quest for justice and recognition of rights. The Bloc Québécois recognizes the 11 aboriginal nations of Quebec for what they are, nations. The Bloc Québécois also recognizes the aboriginal peoples as distinct peoples who are entitled to their cultures, their languages, their customs and their traditions, and to their right to decide for themselves how to go about developing their own identity.
We have had a lot of discussion this week and last week about the history of the birth of Canada, which the Conservative government is trying to rewrite, as we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Quebec. Some absolutely absurd things have been said, like some of the documents that have been released. Nonetheless, everyone has to agree on one thing: the aboriginal people were here before Jacques Cartier arrived, and before anyone came to spend time in Newfoundland or elsewhere. The first nations were here. We agree on that. We must respect that fact absolutely.
Speaking of respect, we cannot let the Erasmus-Dussault report go unmentioned. In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples submitted a comprehensive report that proposed far-reaching changes over a period of 20 years leading to self-government for aboriginal peoples by respecting their customs, cultures, languages and ancestral institutions. Since that time, the Bloc Québécois has been pressuring the federal government to act on the report's recommendations.
This is another warning. This program has been in place since 1996, but there are still many recommendations from the report that the government must act on.
I will conclude by talking about implementation of the bill. There are three scenarios in which a first nation could file a claim with the tribunal. The first is when Canada turns down a claim for negotiation but fails to meet the three-year time limit for assessing claims. The second is at any stage in the negotiation process, if all parties agree.
The third occurs after three years of unsuccessful negotiation. The tribunal will examine only questions of fact and law to determine whether Canada has a lawful obligation to a first nation.
All of that to say that we now have an opportunity to improve the situation, and I am convinced that all parties in this House will support this bill.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great anticipation that I enter this debate today because this affects not only regions like mine in northwestern British Columbia, but I believe it affects the very nature and fabric of our country. It is essential to ensure that legislation like this, Bill , the specific claims tribunal act, is written properly, written well, and written with proper consultation with those most affected and those are the first nations communities that are impacted by the treaty process.
I think all parties within this place have recognized that the process that has existed for so many years has been tinkered with and touched at the margins, but never fundamentally addressed. As I will illustrate over my speaking time here, the greatest effect is on those first nations living in desperate straits.
I cannot recall the number of times, because there have been so many from all sides of this House and from all parties, that we have talked about the conditions of first nations people and how unacceptable those conditions would be for any other group within this country. We need to look upon this as Canadians with unequivocal shame and some understanding that it cannot go on and must change.
I can recall having conversations with the former Indian affairs minister just at the beginning of the tenure of the current regime about the ambitions and the desire to see fundamental shifts in the Indian Act itself. It has guided and ruled over first nations for far too long and is a broken act. The evidence does not need to be crafted up with more government studies because the real, anecdotal evidence is on the ground.
I refer to my colleague from Yukon, whose area has made some progress in trying to take a different approach to first nations consultation, a region, along with other regions across the north, that has attempted to have a deeper inclusion of first nations people in the decision making process. As a result, everyone has benefited. Is the system perfect in Yukon or in other territories in the north? Of course not, but it is a step ahead and I believe that it is simply a question of proximity.
I represent , a region of some 30% to 35% first nations. In the communities that I represent, where first nations are living side by side with non-first nations, the understanding of the situation, the understanding of culture and history, is deeper and more profound. When I am touring the rest of the country, when I am speaking here in Parliament with my colleagues who do not have that experience, there is a certain alienation that goes on, a certain misunderstanding of what the reality is for first nations people.
That is somewhat to be understood but is no longer acceptable. In order for this country to progress, in order for us as Canadian people to start to feel proud again about having an inclusive, fair and just society, then simply this issue, if no other, must be addressed.
Regarding the specifics of this bill, this is an attempt to clear up a backlog that has not received enough attention, that is the 800-some land claims that wait in some sort of purgatory, some sort of limbo, that has gone on for too long and is costing both first nations communities and Canadian taxpayers untold millions of dollars in meeting after meeting with little or no progress. Unfortunately, those who most suffer are those who can least afford to suffer: the first nations people living on first nations reserves all across this country.
About 60% of these claims actually exist in B.C. For historical reasons, land was not seeded. It was not put under any treaty upon first contact and there was a promise made. There was a promise made in the enactment of what is now Canada that the Government of Canada, then controlled by British Parliament, would treat in good faith and would come to the table in good faith with first nations people and attempt to resolve the land question and issues surrounding land.
First nations across this country, and in particular British Columbia and in the north, took in good faith the documents that the government officials had in their hands, thinking that they meant something and that those documents would be adhered to. They thought that there would be some sort of justice and some sort of sense of decency and honour from the Crown, that the Crown would come forward and represent those interests and meet between nations and settle treaties because this had been the first nations experience through all of their history between different first nations.
The reason that we know this is because those nations are alive and well today. They will tell us the histories of when there was conflict between first nations which had gone on for thousands of years, that when they came to some resolution to a dispute, they would meet with honour and treaties would be upheld.
We have oral traditions in the northwest of British Columbia going back thousands of years. It seems that every time another archaeological dig is performed, the extension goes back another thousand or two thousand years. Some of the first nations elders in my communities shake their heads when they tell me about this because their claim, their understanding, is time immemorial. They have spent generation after generation and as they say “walked upon the bones of their grandfathers and great grandfathers and going back through time”.
That has brought them to a certain sense and understanding of how the land works, how their communities function with other communities, and that ability to have conflict which is inevitable between peoples. It happens within households. It happens within communities. It happens between nations. That seems to be an unfortunate but inevitable circumstance of the human condition, but then when those conflicts happen, that there is a place and a time for us to resolve those conflicts, a time when we sit down at the table as near equals as can be and settle our differences.
There are an enormous number of reasons why this imperative is growing and needs to be addressed. That is why New Democrats have put this solution, the requirement of an independent arm's-length tribunal from the government, into our last two election platforms and passed recently at the NDP convention. This is why we have a first nations consultation group working with our party to help guide what needs to go into this independent tribunal.
Frankly, what trust should first nations have in the House of Commons, in this Parliament, to get it right all by themselves because over the years any objective observer would look at the condition and treatment of first nations by Parliament after Parliament, government after government, and after so many promises made. The actual on the ground proof shows first nations that trust is not something they should necessarily bring to the table when this process is designed.
Consultation is a comment and word thrown around very casually by politicians. It is almost like a tick-box. First, get the name right, make sure first nations people's names are correct. Second, make sure the word “consultation” is in our speech and maybe throw in respect, trust, mutual admiration along the way. But consultation, one would hope would finally and clearly be legally defined by the government in conjunction with first nations, so that at the end of the day first nations are not asked to simply trust the government, that first nations are not simply assumed to be willing and equal partners in this conversation, but that they have something in hand that they can take to the bank, so to speak.
This legislation talks about three conditions in which a first nation may enter into this process. This is one of those important conversations, as we design this bill, that the clarity and full education of these conditions are presented to first nations people so that they can decide with full knowledge and understanding before entering a process.
We would hope there is a caveat included in this legislation that allows for accountable and transparent information sharing with first nations which are considering entering this process. For too long governments have dealt directly with the band councils, with some of the first nations' leadership that are represented here in Ottawa and lobby groups, and the first nations people actually living in the villages themselves are passed over, are simply not consulted, not brought in and not given a fair, free voice at the table.
These conditions are important for Canadians to understand because this is where the rubber hits the road. A first nation can file a claim when all of these three conditions are met: first, when a claim is not accepted for negotiation by Canada including a scenario in which Canada fails to meet the three year time limits for assessing the claims, which is part of the backlog right now. I comment on this because I have been around the treaty tables previously as a consultant. Time and time again, of the three parties sitting at the table, the province, the federal government and the first nations, inevitably, one of the two levels of government representing this place or the province, would suddenly find the lack of will to participate and would suddenly find its agenda to be full.
Meetings would get cancelled, postponed or delayed. Millions upon millions of dollars would be misspent this way on treaty processes with no clear timelines and no clear deadlines. All it would take was one of the parties to simply step back and say they were busy, particularly, and this is most unfortunate, when tables had progressed to near conclusion. This seemed to be the time when one of the parties, one of the levels of provincial or federal government, found a certain unwillingness to participate.
It is so difficult for first nations communities, for the first nations leadership, who have to go back to their people and borrow against their eventual claim. This is something important for Canadians to understand, that all of the costs that are incurred by the first nations negotiators, often times is some sort of borrowed money from the future, from the eventual claim. The longer the government delays, in effect, takes away treaty money, eventual money for settlement of claims, and puts it into the treaty process itself, year after year. There are some first nations in British Columbia who are $12, $14 or $15 million in debt in trying to settle their treaty processes. That money will be taken off the tab of their final treaty.
There may be some encouragement for the federal and provincial negotiators to keep themselves a job, to keep talking and keep things going. But that sense of urgency is required. As we all know in our personal and business lives there is no deal that is ever settled without a deadline. There is no difficult task that is ever completed without some sense of a deadline to encourage that urgency, to allow the innovation to take place, to actually settle the claims.
There is a second condition: at any stage in the negotiation process, if all parties agree, and here is a rare circumstance that we hope will exist more and more frequently, where all parties see within their common interest the need to agree. What a fascinating notion.
I know the is listening intently and wants to know when those conditions will be created. Those conditions get created when people come to the table with proper intent, which is to settle treaties. What a remarkable notion.
It must be within the federal and provincial governments' interest to settle treaties. Certainly, it is within the interests of the first nations. They are living the reality of non-treaty conditions. They are living the reality of having no capital or collateral with which to negotiate and develop the economies they hope for, for their people. They have urgency.
So often and too often times the provincial and federal governments, and I am speaking specifically to the case in British Columbia, do not agree. The parties find some easy and common causality to find disagreement. Treaties are complicated things. They deal with education, cultural rights, land issues and revenue sharing. It is very easy when the government has the intent to not agree, to find something that lets it say it needs to take a step back from the process and move away from the table.
There is a third and last negotiating point: after three years of unsuccessful negotiations. Unfortunately, this should be the easiest condition to be met because if any experience is known to the British Columbian first nations communities, many of them would hope for a treaty process that looked at a three year horizon. They would pray for such a thing.
There is a highway that I would encourage the to visit. It travels into the north of British Columbia. It is not a long highway but an important one. It travels from Terrace, British Columbia into the Nass Valley and visits the Nisga'a communities. The highway for many years was a dirt track that sloughed off into the rivers. We have many stories of people dying along the road. It was a logging truck road that was supposed service the 5,000 or 6,000 people who lived in Nisga'a territory.
The road is named Highway 113. The Nisga'a, when settling their treaty, were given the dubious distinction or honour of being able to name the highway. They named it 113 because it had been 113 years since they had first visited the provincial legislature and asked to be treated, dealt with, and negotiated with in a fair and honest way. It was 113 years of persistent negotiation, generation after generation, that would hand the baton to the next leadership and say, please push on because we need to settle this land claim and we need to settle the land question. It took 113 years.
Every time I travel that road, and I was just back there two weeks ago, I visit with the Nisga'a Lisims government, which has a general assembly at this time every spring. I would encourage the to visit. He would be most welcome to visit by the Nisga'a and would be treated with dignity and respect, I can assure him.
Is it not remarkable for Canadians to consider that a first nation that has had to struggle through 113 years to settle a land claim still has the dignity, the poise and the respect to welcome representatives from the federal government, which, some would argue, put them through abuse for 113 years? Is it not remarkable that they would welcome those representatives to their community, that they would provide a feast for them, present them with their respect and their time, and ask those representatives to please accept them? Yes, it is remarkable.
Oftentimes, and perhaps not often enough, members of Parliament are visited by the first nations leadership, the elders from across Canada. I remember when we were settling the Dogrib claim not so long ago. The elders from that first nation community were here in the galleries of the House of Commons and watched question period that day.
I talked to them later and asked them what was going through their minds as they watched the to-and-fro of what we present as debate, what we present to Canadians of their leadership during question period. I wondered what those elders were thinking. They had the dignity and grace to not comment too much to me and said that they supposed it was something good for the cameras for us.
However, we deal with the lives of people. We deal with them when their lives are hanging in the balance and when they are unable to find economic opportunities. I have claimed, and I have been joined in this by many of the first nations leaders in my region, that the best social program is a job. The best way to encourage hope for the future is that prospect of full and gainful employment and the ability to put food on the table in a decent, hard-working way.
That is what first nations want, not just in Skeena in the northwest of British Columbia, but across this country. That is what everybody wants. Everybody wants some respect and some sort of capacity to use the capital that has been given to them, and in the case of first nations, it is capital that is rightfully theirs, which is the land question at its most fundamental.
I would hope, as I have for the four years that I have been in this place, that the cause of aboriginal people is one of those rare causes that will cross over the political lines. I hope that it will cross over the to-and-fro of ideological advantage in the political fray and allow us as people representing Canadians to discover what bonds hold us in common unity across the aisles, across the great divide of partisan politics. I hope that it will allow us to settle on something that we can be proud of.
If this bill is done correctly, this may be one of those rare instances. If the consultation and incorporation of first nations concerns are done properly, this may be one of those circumstances. It is why New Democrats have advocated for this for many years. It is why New Democrats will support the bill going to second reading and to understanding in committee: so that changes can be made, so that we can consider this properly, look at it in the full light of day and take in those consultations accurately.
Granted, one must understand, not having dealt with first nations communities very much, the notions of mistrust from the perspective of first nations. There has been too much history, too much practice, to ask first nations to come out with full and open arms, trusting whatever the government may or may not present.
We must understand, culturally speaking, where the cultural breaks have been when there have been so many atrocities visited upon first nations. We must understand that the lineage back to the tradition of the leadership has been disrupted so fundamentally that time to do this properly must be taken. The ability of government to actually open its mind and its heart to what first nations are telling it is an absolute necessity in order to bring first nations to the table properly and have them endorse this process all the way through.
It is available to us if we as parliamentarians listen properly, if we as parliamentarians act on the recommendations given to us, and if we as parliamentarians put aside the momentary interests of partisan politics and step into that rarefied atmosphere that allows us to develop something that is good for this country in the moment and good for this country in the generations to come.
Mr. Speaker, that is an interesting scenario.
The previous representatives of my region were part and parcel of that filibuster. They were part and parcel of trying to scuttle the entire deal. That was the effort. It was not simply to cause three days of delay. It was to attempt to ruin the first nations treaty, which was the Nisga'a treaty. That was declared and said by a member, and there is some irony, because that member returned to run as a candidate for the Conservative Party in the last election and held the position again, saying that treaties were a mistake. Before that, he was a Reform member.
However, he ran again as a Conservative. In debate after debate in communities of which 50% or more are first nations, while the non-first nations have grown accustomed to the idea and have seen the advantages of it, that gentleman unfortunately was joined by too many within that political movement in saying that this was bad for Canada, that this was bad for our region.
The Nisga'a, to their credit and under the great leadership of Dr. Gosnell and many others, a leadership that handed a torch to the generation that has now adopted this Nisga'a treaty, saw this for what it was. They knew that right intentions would win in the end.
Here is an interesting example. Out of the Nisga'a treaty, the Nisga'a were able to develop what now is called the Nisga'a Fisheries. In a sense, they take care of the Nass River, its tributaries and the outflow into the ocean and manage the fisheries from their perspective and from their cultural perspective. It is one of the few rivers in British Columbia this year that will have any kind of fishery at all. It has been lauded by DFO, environmental groups and industry groups as a well managed fishery, perhaps the best on the entire west coast.
When the Nisga'a treaty was being debated, an important comment was made by the head of the Credit Unions of British Columbia. When he was asked whether the Nisga'a treaty was good or bad in the short term or the long term, he said it was good in both, because finally it allowed for certainty on the land base. It allowed for certainty for forestry, for mining companies and for fishing. It allowed people to make the types of investments and decisions they needed to make, because there was no question about where fee simple was or was not, where the interdiction of the Crown existed and did not. This is what the Nisga'a had been basing their economic revival on: that land question.
As for questions of filibuster and questions of delaying and denying and hoping to resist the inevitable, it was, I would suggest to my Conservative colleagues, an unfortunate period in Canadian history, it really was. However, the Nisga'a persevered and right-thinking members of Parliament persevered.
Now we now have rules in this place, thankfully, which omit that type of tactics from happening in that manner and do not allow the introduction of some 100 or 200 amendments just to talk out the clock and try to destroy a bill, and this was a bill that was supported by a majority of Canadians.
It is incredible to me that the Conservative members would somehow equate trying to destroy a treaty with a representative commenting on a piece of legislation that affects him or her greatly. Thirty per cent of my constituents are first nations. I am amazed that in their sudden desperation to deal with this bill the Conservatives somehow are seeing a filibuster under every rock and tree. It is remarkable to me. The has stood up in this House and asked questions, so I guess the is therefore presenting some sort of filibuster to the House.
Of course, we are not making that accusation. It is bizarre and beyond the pale coming as it does from a government that spent six weeks at the environment committee delaying a climate change bill. To suggest that a 20 minute speech is some grand conspiracy is amazing and disgraceful.
Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to a couple of comments made by the member for .
First, he asked rhetorical questions. He asked if we are sincere with this effort in Bill . First Nations have been asking for this for generations, as Chief Joseph from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has said. In 30 years of government and 10 years as chief, he said, he has never seen a more cooperative effort to draft a bill than this one.
Were there consultations? Yes, there were consultations to the point that the Assembly of First Nations helped us co-author this bill. Shawn Atleo and others from British Columbia, as the member knows, were part of that process.
This effort is very sincere. There were consultations. There were communications materials developed by the Assembly of First Nations subsequent to that.
Therefore, of course, we believe, as Chief Joseph has said, that it is not only a sincere effort but is perhaps really groundbreaking in its effort, in my opinion. I would hope that the member would know that.
I did appreciate his comment about the annual meeting. I know the Nisga'a have their annual meeting. I was not able to attend this year because the House was in session at the time. Just prior to the meeting I phoned the president and had a discussion with him. I hope to be up there this summer. We had that discussion as well. I will take advantage of the invitation to get up there, not just the member's invitation but the invitation of others. That will be a great opportunity as well.
We have made other efforts as well. Record numbers of claims were negotiated. This tribunal act is for when negotiations do not work, but we have actually settled a record number of claims through negotiations, which again I think shows our sincerity to get claims that really are “justice at last” for many people, as has been described by Phil Fontaine and the . They have been waiting way too long, so let us get at this and get it done.
Finally, there are other examples. Specifically when it comes to claims, we have made promises, have followed through and have met our commitments on adding lands to TLE lands on the Prairies. For example, in Manitoba we promised that 150,000 acres a year would be added over a period of four or five years. We have met our targets for two years now and we will meet our targets going forward.
This is a big effort to make sure that longstanding claims, many of them generational in nature, are put behind us, not only because it is the right thing to do and because it is justice at last, but because it does help to heal that relationship with people who say they have waited a long time and the proof is in the pudding. This bill, I would argue, shows first nations that it is worthwhile to work with the government and that the government is sincere in moving forward.
There will be many other issues, I know, and the member has talked to me about some of them. I know they will be raised in the House on other occasions. However, my hope is that we can say on this occasion, with this bill, and with the amendments that the committee has put forward, that on this day we should celebrate success. I hope this will go through.
I will not accuse anyone of filibustering, but I do say to members, let us get it through. There are other issues to deal with. On this one, could we for one day say that this is a good day for aboriginal people and for us as parliamentarians? Could we say about this, which I think and hope will go through tonight unanimously on the next vote, that this was a good bill done in a good way? It probably never will be perfect, but could we say that it is a very good bill done in a good way? I would like to celebrate that.