Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to meeting 18 of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. We will be continuing to deal with Bill , an act to establish the specific claims tribunal and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
As committee members will recall, we are receiving witnesses who come from umbrella organizations from different provinces and regions across the country. We have had delegations or individuals here from British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. Today we will be hearing from some folks from Quebec, and possibly from Atlantic Canada—I'll get to that in a minute.
Then, on Thursday, we'll be finishing this round, with witnesses from Alberta and the territories.
Before I go to our guests from Quebec and Labrador today, I just want to let people know that our second panel, which was to be the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs, is unable to make it. They're stuck in Halifax under a blanket of snow.
We were also to have Mr. Paul, from the Union of New Brunswick Indians. Is Mr. Paul here? I don't think he is. If Mr. Paul does not arrive—and I'm presuming he may very well be unavailable because of weather as well—we will add these individuals to the list of those who will be attending on Monday, March 31.
You'll recall that we left one meeting open at the end of this process as a makeup meeting for individuals or delegations who could not come to their allotted meeting. It turns out that was fortuitous, given that, hopefully, we'll be able to get the Atlantic Policy Congress folks here at that time.
I would suggest that we go ahead with panel A. If Mr. Paul arrives in the next hour, we will deal with him today. Obviously it would be less than ideal to have one of the Atlantic witnesses and not the others. On the other hand, it would seem a shame to have Mr. Paul come all the way to Ottawa and then not hear from him. So we will play that one by ear. If he does not arrive, then we will have just the one panel today.
As one more little bit of business, I understand, Monsieur Lemay, that you have a group of guests, and I wonder if you could tell the committee who has joined us here today.
. Since you're breaking the rules, I'd like to say that I had a bit of a problem getting in the doors here today. The guys gave me a hard time because I'm wearing a Montreal Canadiens watch.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Chief Conrad Polson: I want to thank the committee for inviting us here today. My name is Conrad Polson and I am chief of the Timiskaming First Nation and a member of the Algonquin Nation. Regional Chief Picard could not attend, so he asked me to be here. With me are Claude Picard and Mr. Di Gangi.
We have written a brief that has already been given to you. I will summarize our main comments because I understand the committee wants to focus on questions and answers.
Quebec and Labrador have a unique legal and factual situation. We are in a transition zone between the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the numbered treaties. There are no historic land surrender treaties, and aboriginal title still exists. Reserves have been set aside in at least five different ways in our region, but not by treaty. Of the landless first nations in Canada, 42% are in Quebec. These five first nations have no reserve lands.
There is an urgent need to reform the specific claims policy. The specific claims policy has never responded fully to our unique legal and factual situation. From an administrative point of view, the current system does not work effectively. The federal government is in a conflict of interest because it is judge and jury. We are encouraged that the current government appears committed to reforming the policy. We are also encouraged that there is all-party support for this effort.
But there are concerns about the process up to this point. The legislation and the political accord were done with the Assembly of First Nations, but the process was secret because of the legislative drafting. Our chiefs first saw the legislation and the political accord at the end of November when they were publicly announced. The timing was not good. There are things being rushed too much, and there seems to be the view that if first nations want to consider the package carefully, somehow they are against it. This is unreasonable.
The AFNQL's role is to provide information and encourage discussions so our members can make informed decisions and give the organization direction. There has not been enough time to carry out legal analysis and get the information to the chiefs and councils to get their comments. It is important for chiefs and councils to consider this package and provide direction on this issue, because the individual first nations are the ones who own these claims and this affects them most directly.
The federal government has a legal duty to consult. This cannot be delegated to another organization. If the government is serious about reforming the specific claims policy, it should be willing to carry out meaningful consultations. This is the best way to build support.
is an incremental approach to reform. The joint task force recommendations from 1998 called for a completely independent claims process to get rid of the federal conflict of interest once and for all. Bill C-30 removes part of the conflict of interest. It creates a tribunal that can rule on validation and compensation for some claims, but claims will still be with the federal government alone for the first six years. This leaves a lot of room for federal conflict of interest to come into play. The largest claims will be subject to federal conflict of interest. The package is a partial step forward, similar to the incremental reforms that came after Oka in 1990.
We have some specific concerns about parts of . The definitions of what is eligible or ineligible to be a specific claim don't reflect Quebec and Labrador's unique legal and factual situation. Paragraph 14(1)(c) covers claims arising from the crown's provision of reserve lands. It should also cover claims arising from failure to provide reserve lands.
Paragraph 15(1)(f) excludes claims that are based on aboriginal rights or title. This is prejudicial to Quebec and Labrador, since many specific claims in our regions are indirectly connected to title. This is a very important issue for us.
The compensation cap discriminates against first nations that have lost the most by continuing to expose them to the federal conflict of interest. Most specific claims are about land, but the proposed tribunal will not be able to award land.
The bill does not remove the potential for federal-provincial fights over liability for pre-Confederation claims. The federal government should assume responsibility for pre-Confederation breaches.
The Indian Specific Claims Commission has been shut down without finishing its work. The government unilaterally imposed conditions on which claims would be completed by the commission and which files would be shut down. At least two claims from Quebec that were at the commission have been terminated. Now these first nations have no recourse to address their claims, and they are further delayed.
The political accord contains some critical issues that remain unresolved. The assurances in the political accord about reforming the additions to reserve policy are not concrete enough to balance the fact that the tribunal cannot award land. Although the court is supposed to cover things like submission standards for incoming claims, the specific claims branch is already acting unilaterally in trying to impose standards in this area. This is being used to delay the acceptance of incoming claims.
There are so many vague commitments in the accord that it is hard to judge the package as a whole. The accord is not enforceable and is not binding on future governments. Either way, if this package goes ahead, the actions coming out of the political accord need to be more open and less secret. They must actively involve the organizations that are directly involved in the research and development of the specific claims.
None of this will work if enough resources are not allocated. This package is very ambitious and promises to accomplish a lot, but it will cost money. The government says it will set aside $250 million per year for compensation, but there's no commitment for additional human and financial resources either for a specific claims branch or claims research units.
In the past 10 years, actual cutbacks and the effects of inflation have severely reduced capacity within SCB and the CRUs. Improvements cannot come just from increased efficiencies; more money is required to get the system working. There are still concerns about the backlog of claims. There has been a lot of talk about getting rid of the backlog of hundreds of claims, but where is the plan? What concrete measures are in place to address the backlog?
Good afternoon. This certainly is an important matter.
Every time we have witnesses in front of us, we talk about the issue of consultation. At a briefing last week provided by the department, they indicated they believe they have no legal obligation to consult on this particular bill--that's big “C” consultation--arising out of the Supreme Court decision on Haida. They don't believe they have any legal obligation to consult on because there's no demonstration that it is an infringement upon aboriginal rights and interests or that it causes harm in any way. They also cite the fact that this approach is totally voluntary in the sense that a first nation can choose to enter into this process or they can choose not to.
On those bases, they say they don't have a legal obligation to consult. That doesn't mean to say they won't talk, they won't collaborate, but they don't have a legal duty to consult.
When it comes to this particular bill, I find it very peculiar, because under that rationale they say they have no legal duty to consult on this bill, but they've gone into some kind of collaborative working relationship with AFN. We have other bills before us--the repeal of section 67 and now matrimonial real property--which obviously could have an impact on the rights and interests of first nations, and they've chosen a different path altogether on that.
I want to know what your feeling is on this. Is the department making any sense when they say they don't have a legal duty to consult because it's totally voluntary, that you can either opt into this process or choose not to participate?
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Thank you for welcoming us.
I do not think this is the place to enter into a legal debate, as the member was just saying. He was making a distinction between “Consultation” and “consultation”, however. The only comment I would have for the committee—and you just mentioned it as well—is that I do not know how many times we have found ourselves before a committee like this one to discuss the issue of consultations. Furthermore, I could say the same thing for the provincial legislative assembly as well.
Is it a moral or a legal obligation to consult? I will not enter into that debate, but I would appreciate not being accused again of wanting to be consulted left, right and centre. You referred to the document that we have included, the Consultation Protocol that was inspired by the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Sustainable Development Strategy. This protocol is as broad in scope as the sustainable development strategy. It therefore covers all issues related to the territory, to culture, etc.
We attempted to set minimal conditions in order to avoid finding ourselves in a situation where our people would ask the chief where this initiative came from, because they were not consulted. We would find ourselves once again, as was the case with the bill we are discussing today, no doubt with... I'm not searching for an explanation either. If there are discussions to be held between first nations, we will hold them with all of the goodwill in the world, because these are issues that concern first nations among themselves above all.
However, everyone should try and make an effort—I believe we made some effort—to avoid certain situations, and so that the chiefs from Quebec and Labrador will not find themselves at a particular meeting being obliged to comment on a document. Once again, the issue is not to determine the circumstances that have resulted in our being here today. Having said that, we could have talked about other bills, some of which will come before this committee, that have the chiefs wondering when it was that they might have commented on those issues and when their counsel and they themselves might have consulted their people on the issue. The word “consultation” is a very broad term. We tried to do our best to clarify our thinking with this document. We are prepared to tackle it again, but I do not know how many times we have sent this consultation document to the governments we are dealing with.
Personally, as a representative of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, I think we have done our part of the work required in order to establish the processes of consultation, but we unfortunately find that it is still not enough.
Thanks, Mr. Chair, and thank you for coming before the committee today.
I think there were a couple of points in your presentation that I found a bit troubling. I just want to make a quick comment about consultation. Every time we have a piece of legislation before this committee, the issue of consultation is raised, as Mr. Russell points out.
I would argue—and this is not a partisan remark, because there have been successive governments that have failed to work with first nations to develop a consultation policy—that there seems to be a fundamental philosophical difference around lack of recognition of nation-to-nation status, as I've said before. I would argue, and I think many of the witnesses have argued, that appearing before a committee does not constitute consultation. What happened with the Assembly of First Nations was an effort to get input, but in no way can it be deemed to be consultation, and the federal government, as you pointed out, cannot delegate its duty to consult. We don't have the terms of reference, but my understanding is that the Assembly of First Nations was asked to facilitate a dialogue, which hardly constitutes consultation. I just wanted to make that comment.
I want to come back to your comment about the fact that some first nations have had their specific claims process shut down. We've heard this from other nations as well. When I go back to the transitional clause that's in the legislation, my understanding of it is that there was going to be a period of time for claims in transition. I'm surprised that we're already hearing of nations that have had their claims rejected or not considered for negotiation when there have been no guidelines set out and the bill hasn't even come into effect.
When he came to the committee, we raised with the minister the issue of how backlogs were going to be dealt with. Now, if one of the ways for dealing with backlogs is to reject claims at the outset and to tell first nations that they have to resubmit their claims once the bill is passed, that hardly seems like a fair and reasonable way to deal with backlogs. When the minister replied to the committee on the issue of dealing with the backlogs—because, depending on whose numbers you use, there are 800 or 900 or 1,200 specific claims in the system—he mentioned that 50% of those claims were small claims. We've heard some different points of view on that.
In your view, what needs to be in place to deal with the substantial backlog? If we're just going to have people get back into the line-up, they're going to face an additional three to six years before they're even going to be considered. So what, in your view, has to be done to deal with the backlog?
I appreciate all the witnesses who've come before us today. Clearly, you've brought a lot of good testimony to our committee, and I'm very excited to take your recommendations as we continue with the work we're doing. As everyone knows, this is a very important bill.
In the previous rendition of the way the Government of Canada dealt with specific claims, many argued that we were in fact the judge and jury and final arbiter of all things that had to do with specific claims. So there was a massive call for us to remove that conflict of interest, and thankfully, our government has proceeded with this bill. After what has turned out to be quite a fruitful consultation with the national chief and the Assembly of First Nations, we have a bill before us today.
Some testimony has indicated that there could be improvements to all bills before this House, so I'm glad to hear that you've brought forward a number of recommendations. I'm especially pleased to read in your conclusions that Bill represents a significant and important improvement over Bill C-6, which was introduced by the previous Liberal government. We believe that the modifications suggested, with further clarification, will help it become further strengthened. I'm also glad that you're suggesting to this committee that it continue its all-party support of the initiative so that we do not lose this opportunity, as you've written in your conclusion. We clearly have a lot of common ground, and I appreciate the testimony you've provided so far.
One area, though, on which I would like to continue the discussion is in the section on page 4 of your brief on the provision of reserved lands. It is in relation to paragraph 14(1)(c). You talk about how the provision of reserve lands, including unilateral undertakings, might not account for or properly deal with specific first nations that don't currently have reserve land but were perhaps promised reserve land at previous times in history.
This is the current language within the bill, which we've already talked about:
||a breach of a legal obligation arising from the Crown’s provision of reserve lands, including unilateral undertakings that give rise to a fiduciary obligation at law, or its administration of reserve lands, Indian moneys or other assets of the First Nation
In defence of the drafting, it is felt by the government that those situations you've referred to would be covered under this particular section. So if you could give me more testimony as to why you don't think that's the case, that would be appreciated.
Thank you, Chief, for being here with your delegation.
I have a northern Ontario riding with a very large number of first nations, so I really appreciate your testimony today.
I notice you made reference to the addition to reserve, or, as it's sometimes known, return to reserve lands. I know it's not in the bill, but when the government made its press release on this bill, they mentioned that work was to commence on the return to reserves. Actually, you mentioned in your brief that there are no concrete details.
Since the writing of this presentation, have you had any indication at all on the addition to reserves piece that is to follow?
I know I have a couple of first nations for whom this is very important—it's at the bottom of page 7 of your presentation. I'm thinking of Mississaugi First Nation, between Sudbury and the Soo.
If you don't have anything to add to your comments here, that's fine. No? Okay.
Well, it's a very important piece, and the government did mention that it would follow this up with first nations in future consultations.
I'll move to the issue of resources. First nations don't usually have extra money around to do the research to support their claims, and the first nations are using limited resources to do detailed historical research that is often beyond their ability. I know in the case of Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, they've been dealing with a couple of claims for a long time.
Do you feel some comfort, any comfort, that going forward under the new regime you will have access to the resources you need to properly present and support your cases?
Thank you, Mr. Bruinooge.
For those viewers at home who don't know what's going on here, Monsieur Lévesque and I both have a birthday today. I was going to say that we're sharing a happy anniversary together, but I wasn't sure how, between the English and the French, that would get altered.
There's a little-known rule in Parliament that if two or more members of a committee have a birthday on the same day, we get a cake. We got this very nice cake, and I want to thank the staff for organizing the birthday cake.
It's really quiet here now, because everyone's mouth is full.
I'd like to reconvene for our second panel today. As I said earlier, our witnesses from the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs were unable to make it. They're stuck in the snow.
I'm happy to say that Darrell Paul, the executive director of the Union of New Brunswick Indians, managed to find at least one flight that was running to Ottawa today and is here with us.
Mr. Paul, what we'd like to ask you to do is make an opening statement, if you would. That will be followed by a round of questioning from committee members. I anticipate that with the time we have left we'll have enough time for one round of questioning.
Mr. Paul, the floor is yours.
Thank you. As I was introduced, my name is Darrell Paul. I'm with the Union of New Brunswick Indians.
First of all, I want to say that it's a pleasure to be here before you to make this presentation on behalf of the aboriginal people of New Brunswick. Let me say up front that we are in favour of this legislation and encourage you to have it passed and adopted into law. It is a significant move forward from the status quo.
There are many positive aspects to this bill. It is an independent tribunal that we've never had before; it can hear claims that go up to $150 million, far more than any previously proposed; it now puts a timeline of three years in which Indian and Northern Affairs Canada must respond to a claim; and AFN and Canada signed a political agreement as a companion piece to this legislation.
As you know, the land claims process only came into being in the early seventies, when I first started working in this area. I have spent the past 30 years being frustrated by a system for settling land claims that just did not get the job done.
I want to give you some idea of just how frustrating the system has been. There are specific claims in Atlantic Canada, and practically every one has taken several years to be accepted by INAC. There are cases where it has taken five, six, and seven years just to have a claim rejected, meaning it's been sitting that many years with Justice deciding whether or not a claim is valid, and in most cases it was rejected.
One of the biggest bottlenecks is that the Department of Justice gives an opinion to INAC on any claim submitted. This has been a problem. For example, several years after a claim has been submitted, there is a legal opinion rejecting our claim. The door is then shut on our claim unless further research indicates otherwise. At this point, it is very difficult to prove a valid claim to INAC unless we take it to the courts, and that would be very expensive to do. This is the result of INAC taking on the role of judge and jury and the final decision resting with them. In other words, we're at their mercy.
The establishment of an Indian Claims Commission has not been much help to us either because a decision made at that level was not a binding one. Should the ICC decide against us on a claim, INAC seemed pleased about it. On the other hand, if the ICC made a decision in our favour, it was ignored because the ICC could only recommend.
The courts are the only recourse we have, and that would be very costly because the bands do not have the financial resources to go to court.
When we apply to have a claim accepted for negotiation, INAC requires us to submit a legal opinion on our claim to them. Then, after they get Justice to give them a legal opinion on our claim, they refuse to share it with us, claiming that it is privileged. If their legal opinion is privileged, then why isn't our legal opinion privileged as well? The requirement that we submit a legal opinion with our claim as a precondition should be disallowed, whether or not the claim may be valid.
The negotiation process has been particularly frustrating. It takes years to try to move these claims forward--10, 15, 18 years. After it has been accepted, some claims have been in the system for 15 to 25 years and are still not resolved. If we are dealing with a claim that has been rejected and we have had to gather further evidence and do even more research, it adds even more years to the protracted process.
This act, , now before Parliament, is the latest attempt to resolve the specific claims problems that face us. I believe it is the best attempt so far.
The AFN has worked hard on our behalf to get the legislation. It has dialogued with first nations and first nations organizations to ensure that what goes forward is generally acceptable to most of our people, and it is. There are several reasons why it is better than anything we have had before.
This is a legislated approach, which, so far, is a better approach than the policy that existed before. It is not necessarily perfect; however, it provides for a truly independent third party to deal with our specific land claims. Despite this, we have some suggested improvements to put forward. There are five suggestions I want to put forward concerning this tribunal, which may help to improve what is being set up here.
First, there needs to be an overall policy approach that makes the process less intimidating and as informal as possible. Right now the tribunal will be mandated to look like and operate like a superior court of law. As I said earlier, that is good, but if there were provision for the tribunal to have a group of elders from across the country—call them an advisory council of elders—one of them could sit with the judge to hear the case and advise him during the hearing. Then, as a decision is being made, it should make it easier on any aboriginal people participating, such as community elders who are there to give evidence. There is already a provision for an advisory council to advise the tribunal on the drawing up of the rules and procedures. There should be a provision to have aboriginal representation on that advisory council as well.
Second, the bill provides for an appeal by any party, but the appeal must go to the Federal Court of Appeal, and presumably it may go further on leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Although that specific provision is not mentioned in the legislation, maybe it should be, to ensure that the Supreme Court of Canada has jurisdiction to hear such a case. The Federal Court has a trial division and an appeal division. The National Parole Board has a trial level of hearing and an appeal level. I believe the Tax Court of Canada has trial and appeal levels. There is no reason this tribunal could not also have an appeal level built into it, so that the first level of appeal would be internal and made up of three judges and come before the Federal Court of Appeal and a more formal judicial process. Such a provision would make for a quicker, more informal, and less intimidating appeal process, which could also benefit from the advice of elders, who should advise the appeal judges.
Third is the issue of cost. The court has the right to order the crown to pay the cost of bringing a matter to court, and has done so in the past in order to ensure a more level playing field, especially in regard to some aboriginal cases. This legislation should provide that the crown automatically pay all costs for the parties before it, rather than awarding costs to one or other of the parties after the fact. There are provisions to ensure that frivolous matters will not go to the tribunal. If there is a dispute as to what is covered by costs or the amount of the costs, that can be argued before the tribunal and settled by the tribunal.
Fourth is the issue of the jurisdiction of the tribunal. At present it seems to be limited to issues dealing with land or assets, and aboriginal and treaty rights are excluded. This is going to be a problem. For example, we have had the right in New Brunswick to harvest wood on crown land for personal use. Now if we are denied this treaty right in some way, we can only go to the regular court of redress, or if there is a dispute as to what is an aboriginal right and how that right can be exercised, again we must go to the court. Going to court is just too expensive, and most bands cannot afford to do it; therefore justice is denied us.
This problem also applies to landless bands such as the Passamaquoddy of New Brunswick, who are not only landless but are also unrecognized in Canada. Here is a group of aboriginal people living in Canada who are recognized as status Indians in the United States of America, and their people have reserves in the U.S.A., but they live and work in Canada and are not recognized here and therefore have no land here, even though they have claims to land here in Canada.
They have the right to have their status recognized by Canada and the right to fight for land based on their traditional lands, because they are signatories to our treaties.
If you feel this matter of dealing with issues that are not provided for in the mandate of the tribunal is too complex to make an amendment to the legislation right now, then add a provision to have a committee study it over the next year or two and come back with recommendations within a certain timeframe.
Fifth, there needs to be an adequate and meaningful follow-up on the commitments contained in the political accord, such as a clear, workable, timely, and funded process. This must include a meaningful process for dealing with claims over $150 million and must ensure that there's proper and complete funding. In particular, there needs to be funding provided for those first nations that need to carry out research for negotiations on a specific claim.
In conclusion, we certainly appreciate the opportunity to make this presentation to you. We recommend the passing of this legislation and hope you will give serious consideration to our suggestions.
We are prepared now to answer any questions you may have.
Good afternoon, sir, and welcome.
I certainly enjoyed your presentation. It was very practically oriented, outlining some of the strengths of the legislation, some of its weaknesses, and also recommendations about where it can be enhanced.
Your views are not always consistent with those of some of your brothers and sisters across the country, and that's part of what we will have to wrestle with as a committee as we go forward with this particular piece of legislation.
I want to come back to a couple of issues you raised. I heard your frustration with the current claims process. I would suppose it's partly with some specific claims and also with comprehensive claims—I believe there are some comprehensive claims being looked at in New Brunswick as well? I certainly have heard this from you.
You said the Department of Justice was often an impediment, in terms of the advice they have given to Indian Affairs. I would only say that I don't think that's going to be different under this particular piece of legislation. Justice will have a significant impact, I believe, on whether they suggest a claim will be accepted for negotiation by the Minister of Indian Affairs. I don't believe that sort of balance or that collaborative approach between Justice and Indian Affairs will change under this.
Indian Affairs has up to three years to accept a claim for negotiation, once you present it, and then another three years to negotiate it, or maybe you can agree to go to a tribunal. I don't believe Justice is necessarily taken out of the equation here just because we have this piece of legislation; I doubt it very much. So we have all this upfront stuff--Justice, Indian Affairs for three years, negotiations for three years.
Have you any indication what the plans are to make sure the first part of the process is well funded, well resourced, that there will be changes in the system existing right now that will facilitate the potentially six first years of assessment and negotiation? Has any of that been indicated to you?
The minister has been very vague on what is being done internally to accommodate this particular piece of legislation if it is approved. Have you people any idea what might be happening?
Thanks, Mr. Paul, for coming before the committee today. I appreciate your thoughtful presentation.
I have a couple of questions for you.
Unfortunately, just because timelines are outlined and legislation doesn't necessarily mean governments of any political stripe actually meet those timelines, there really aren't any consequences for failure to meet the timelines. This has come up a number of times, and I wonder if you would comment on it.
We know there are a significant number of claims already in the system. When it comes to the bill being passed, the clock essentially is going to be reset to zero for the claims that are in the system. I just fail to see how the system is going to deal with the 800, 900, or 1,200 claims, depending on whose numbers you want to use, that are currently there in the system. I just can't see our meeting that six-year timeframe--three years to negotiate and then an additional three years to get it to the tribunal. I just don't know how that's going to be accomplished.
The answers the minister has provided are very vague: a recognition that some additional resources are required, but no real commitment to them; a recognition that some of these claims will be able to be grouped, but no analysis of the numbers and the resources that are required; no analysis of the resources that will come to first nations to help them out with their research; and no analysis of what's going to be required for first nations that are required to resubmit. I agree there are some positive good steps in this legislation, but I just don't see legislation, in and of itself, clearing the backlog.
I wonder if you would comment on that.
Now that we have that straight, Mr. Chair, I want to thank Mr. Paul very much for coming today. The weather is much noted in your arrival here today.
I do want to ask you a couple of questions on the process. You stated that you're emphatically behind this legislation, as you see it as a step forward from the status quo of the past.
I should say, Mr. Chair, that any time I have left over I'll be splitting with my colleague from Peace River.
We had Chief Lawrence Joseph here from the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, representing 75 first nations and approximately 122,000 first nations status people. He has also been on this file for about 30 years, as you have. He had some very interesting things to say. I will paraphrase his statement that he had personally served in government for 30 years, and also as chief for 10 years, and had never seen this type of high-level commitment from the government to actually do something jointly with first nations in a strategic and structured way. And his vice-chief, Glen Pratt, said, “Personally, I think it's a real stepping stone forward in terms of having first nations at the table jointly recommending legislation. I think that in itself allows us to have greater input into the bill itself, rather than always reacting to the bills.”
Do you agree with these statements, Mr. Paul?