Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill , the specific land claims tribunal act. This piece of legislation is long overdue. New Democrats have long called for an independent tribunal. I am very pleased to see this piece of legislation come forward, and of course we will be supporting it.
I want to provide a bit of context because I think this is important to Canadians who are listening to this debate.
A document prepared by the Library of Parliament on the specific claims process outlined the long, sad and sorry history of specific claims. It started with the year 1927. I am going to read from that document:
|| Assertions of outstanding commitments owed by Canada to First Nations groups remained largely unconsidered by government well into the 20th century. From 1927 to 1951, the Indian Act prohibited the use of band funds for claims against government. In 1947, the special Senate-Commons committee struck to examine the Indian Act and other Indian Affairs matters recommended, inter alia, the immediate establishment of a “Claims Commission” “to inquire into the terms of all Indian treaties … and to appraise and settle in a just and equitable manner any claims or grievances arising thereunder.”(1) The 1959-1961 joint committee on Indian Affairs also advocated an “Indian Claims Commission” “to hear the British Columbia and Oka land questions and other matters....
It goes on to say that in 1963 and 1965, the then Liberal government revived a draft legislative initiative which subsequently died on the order paper.
It also states that in 1982, the federal government issued “Outstanding Business: A Native Claims Policy--Specific Claims”. There were a couple of points that the document specifically talks about. It talked about non-fulfillment of a treaty or agreement, breach of an obligation under the Indian Act or another statute related to Indians, breach of an obligation in administration of Indian funds or other assets, and unlawful disposition of reserve lands.
In reserve related circumstances, it talked about failure to provide compensation for reserve lands damaged or taken by the government and clear cases of fraud in acquiring or dispossessing of reserve land by federal employee agents.
In the 2000-01 annual report submitted by the Indian Claims Commission, the ICC observed that the specific claims process remains painfully slow and in gridlock.
The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, in its 1996 paper recommended the establishment by federal statute of an independent aboriginal lands and treaties tribunal which would replace the ICC and, in the area of specific claims, review federal funding to claimants, monitor negotiations and issue binding orders.
We can see that there is truly a long, sad and sorry history when dealing with specific claims. As many of us know, there has been report after report after report.
A report issued by the other house, called, “Negotiation or Confrontation: It's Canada's Choice” contained a number of recommendations. I want to touch very briefly on two of them. When this bill is before committee we will need to consider some of the questions that were raised by the other house.
The report talks about the fact that the process has limited resources. A number of issues were discussed in terms of the current process and its limited resources. One would hope that this bill would address that. There was a constant turnover of staff that were involved in specific claims. There was a high volume and the very fact that there were insufficient resources meant that the backlog was ever increasing. The process has untrained researchers. In terms of the research, some of the witnesses who came before the committee said that they therefore continually repeat historical errors, fail to have effective management regimes and function inefficiently.
We also know that under the specific claims, and under comprehensive claims as well, but we are only dealing with specific claims on this matter, there was also a lack of sharing of information among the various parties at the table. Mr. Michael Coyle has written a paper on specific claims in Ontario solely but has made some recommendations about how research could be shared among the parties at the table so that different parties are not duplicating research.
In particular, because I am from British Columbia, I want to mention that in the report called “Negotiation or Confrontation: It's Canada's Choice”, some very key pieces of information about British Columbia were raised. In the report it says:
|| Witnesses from British Columbia were quick to point out that the majority of Specific Claims in the system are from BC. They said the uniqueness of British Columbia’s Specific Claims must be considered in any new strategies aimed at reducing the backlog of Specific Claims. Speaking for the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), Chief Debbie Abbott thought not only that the allocation of resources for resolving BC claims should reflect the number of Specific Claims submitted by First Nations in BC but that there should be an independent body established for BC claims only.
The numbers vary but it is significant that well over half of the specific claims before the current process are from British Columbia. The chiefs from British Columbia have come out in support of this piece of legislation, but they have raised a number of questions, which I am sure the committee will have an opportunity to address.
In a letter that they sent out dated November 23, they indicated that there are a couple of issues they would like addressed, and they talk about the $150 million cap on the value of claims that can be referred to the tribunal for validation and settlement. They say in their letter:
||--the $150 million figure for “value” will be calculated based on principles consistent with those set out by the Ontario court recently in its judgment in the Whitefish case.
|| More resources will be dedicated to the research, negotiation and settlement of B.C. specific claims which compromise nearly half the claims in the system and 62% of the claims in the Department of Justice backlog.
|| Provincial statutes of limitations do not apply to specific claims.
|| Water rights, pre-confederation claims and all unilateral undertakings of the Crown must be included in the definition of “specific claims”.
|| There should be no conflict of interest on claims that have access to the ICC. This means appointments to that committee need to be jointly agreed upon by First Nations and Canada.
|| There should be no conflict of interest in claims that do not have access to the tribunal, ie. those valued at over $150 million. This means there needs to be a legislated process to deal with those claims and that their resolution not be at Canada's discretion.
Certainly, we know that part of the problems with the current process is that the government ends up being both judge and jury on the specific claims process.
In a recent court decision in British Columbia, in the Tsilhqot'in Nation v. British Columbia, the piece that is relevant to this current piece of legislation is around the process of reconciliation. The justice in the decision said:
|| Throughout the course of the trial and over the long months of preparing this judgment, my consistent hope has been that, whatever the outcome, it would ultimately lead to an early and honourable reconciliation with Tsilhqot’in people. After a trial of this scope and duration, it would be tragic if reconciliation with Tsilhqot’in people were postponed through seemingly endless appeals. The time to reach an honourable resolution and reconciliation is with us today.
Further on down, the justice stated:
|| Unfortunately, the initial reluctance of governments to acknowledge the full impact of s. 35(1) has placed the question of reconciliation in the courtroom--one of our most adversarial settings. Courts struggle with the meaning of reconciliation when Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal litigants seek a determination regarding the existence and implications of Aboriginal rights.
Lloyd Barber, speaking as Commissioner of the Indian Claims Commission, is quoted on this issue in the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: Looking Forward, Looking Back:
|| It is clear that most Indian claims are not simple issues of contractual dispute to be resolved through conventional methods of arbitration and adjudication. They are the most visible part of the much, much more complex question of the relationship between the original inhabitants of this land and the powerful cultures which moved in upon them.
I think those issues around reconciliation and the relationship between the first peoples of this country and various governments of various political stripes since 1927 speaks to the fact that this is an important piece of legislation and one would hope that during this process, it does lay some framework for future pieces of legislation.
In particular, Bill was drafted with the support of first nations. The Assembly of First Nations and others worked very closely with the Conservative government to come up with Bill , and that in itself is an important statement, and one would hope would set the tone for future pieces of legislation.
I think the sad and unfortunate part is that the government missed an opportunity to look at Bill in the same light, particularly in view of the fact that the majority of the committee had called on the Conservative government to use it as an opportunity to look at the repeal of section 67 using a consultative process that clearly the government sees as valuable because it had used it with Bill .
I will conclude by saying that certainly in British Columbia and the rest of Canada the specific claims have been a thorn in people's sides for a number of years because of the untimely and some would argue disrespectful process in terms of how claims have been moved through the system and resolved.
I welcome the opportunity to support this piece of legislation. I look forward to it coming to committee and hearing about how it can be implemented in a timely fashion. I look forward to more detail around the political accord because of course some of the mechanics of the bill are happening outside of the legislative process.
I hope that the details around the accord will be put forward in detail with appropriate resources. For example, on appointments to the tribunal, I understand there is a process in place, but the NDP has called on the importance of making sure that first nations are represented in that process.
I look forward to the speedy passage of the bill and the New Democrats will certainly be supporting it.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this particular bill today. I know thousands of people are watching and some of them may not understand what bill we are dealing with, so I just want to make it clear.
Land claims with first nations is a major issue across this country. This bill would allow modern treaties to be made with first nations, so that they could have their proper place in this nation. The bill is largely based on the royal proclamation from the 18th century which basically said that all the land in Canada belongs to aboriginal people unless treaties or specific deals are made for certain lands.
Governments have dealt with first nations for a long time in making treaties. These treaties ensure that first nations have their rights respected. They also ensure that first nations have land, opportunities, and the required resources. There have been some remarkable claims over the years, but many claims still need to be settled. Some of them may involve hundreds of millions of dollars. However, that is not what the bill before us deals with.
Bill deals with specific small claims where a treaty is already in place, but there is a problem with it. The government might have abrogated its responsibility. It might not have fulfilled some duty on a particular piece of land. It might owe some money to a particular first nation, or it reneged on something it said it would give to aboriginal people.
A dispute might arise because the government did not provide what it said it would provide or there is a disagreement of some kind between what the treaty said first nations would receive and what they would not receive. The bill deals with all these little annoyances.
To make it clear for the public, we are not talking about the huge amount of unsettled land claims that are still going on across the country. We are not talking about major claims involving first nations that do not have a treaty. However, the government should be putting the majority of its effort into getting these claims settled. Once they are dealt with, the government should not just leave it at that.
As the Auditor General has quite clearly pointed out that there are a number of cases where a treaty has been signed but the government has not acted in the spirit of the treaty. The three territories in the north are looking for strong action by the government. Signing a treaty is not the end of a relationship. It is really just the beginning. As the critic for the north, I can certainly say that people in the north want these treaties followed. They want the government to act and fulfill the objectives of these treaties.
Bill deals with little annoyances such as the government not fulfilling conditions of a treaty or a first nation disagreeing with the government over the conditions of a treaty. These small claims would be dealt with by this particular bill.
Our critic from Winnipeg South Centre said that the bill is definitely a step in the right direction. We are certainly supportive of improving the process. However, this legislation does need to be studied extensively in committee. Some concerns have already been voiced.
The legislative tribunal is not a new approach or a new idea. It was proposed by the Liberal leader in his leadership platform. He is an honest person. I am sure he does not care which party puts forward any of his ideas for the betterment of Canadians as long as the ideas get through the process. He will be very excited if this bill gets through because he has definitely wanted a tribunal process that would deal with specific claims.
Calls for an independent tribunal go as far back as 1947. In 1996, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended an independent lands and treaties tribunal. Over the next decade, attempts were made to reform the specific claims process but were unsuccessful.
All are agreed that the current process needs to be improved. All are in agreement that the number of claims is too high.
Since 1973, almost 1,300 claims have been submitted to Canada and, to date, 513 of these have been concluded, which leaves 784 outstanding. The minister has said that the number was as high as 900.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to do the right thing and come up with a process that can deal with this huge backlog that is not dealing with the claims fast enough.
We have already heard from some who feel they were not consulted but they will have their opportunity to put their concerns before the committee.
We have also heard a concern about the cap on claims and whether the dedicated funding of $250 million annually will be enough. I certainly had that thought when I first viewed the bill. I am assuming that the government, in good faith, will do a supplementary estimate and increase the money if claims are not settled by the judges in excess of that amount. If anyone in the government says that they will not, then a bill that is not too controversial will become quite controversial because there is no use having judges making decisions and Parliament not giving the money to implement those decisions.
There has been some concern that first nations do not have a say in the appointment of judges to the tribunal. The plan first put forward by the Liberal leader called for first nations to have input. In many cases, this process will rely on a provincial buy-in because of its stewardship over most crown lands. It is very important that we work very closely with provincial and, in some cases, territorial governments to ensure the buy-in is a part of the process so that all the parties in respect of a claim can be involved and have it dealt with.
I started out by explaining how the land claims problem in Canada is small. This also does not deal with the minor claims of first nations that signed modern treaties. Many of those treaties already have a dispute mechanism in them. Once again, this only deals with the offences against some of the existing treaties and has nothing to do with the huge land claims backlog and what is called comprehensive claims. Comprehensive means that it deals with creating an entire new claim and if self-government is attached it is a new government.
When the bill goes to committee we will need to listen to witnesses from first nations to ensure the bill would accomplish what I think all parties in the House have gone on record as saying they want it to accomplish. The bill is too important to call witnesses and leave the questions to the government.
Any person who has an interest in this bill and who wants to appear before the committee, they should please contact me or our aboriginal affairs critic, the member for who spoke earlier.
This bill has been decades in the making. I commend the government for working on the bill and, in particular, for developing the bill with the grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations. A previous speaker made it clear that this was a landmark change for the Conservatives and an excellent way to develop a bill that will get the support of all parties in the House.
As I have done a number of times, I must compliment grand chief, Phil Fontaine, on being a great leader. He has brought much to his people in his term as grand chief, including the historic residential schools settlement that he made with the government. This is another great step forward to deal with hundreds of specific claims in a fair and faster way.
After all the kudos to the government, though, I must now mention all the problems it has in all other areas in dealing with aboriginal people. Aboriginal peoples want their issues concerning their basic human rights to be seriously addressed by the government, including addressing the poverty gap and the infrastructure problems first nations face on reserve today. Without real action there is fear that nothing will be done.
It is unfortunate to say this, and the government may not want to hear it, but since coming to power, listening to the voices of aboriginal Canadians has not been a priority of the government. Last week marked the two year anniversary of the Kelowna accord. The government has ignored the voices calling for the implementation of the agreement, and that is by all members of Parliament, with the exception of government members.
The government has ignored aboriginal leaders, provincial and territorial leaders and others who were involved in the 18 month process that led to the agreement. It made a unilateral decision to cancel the agreement and yet it still held up at the United Nations as an example of how it was working in partnership with aboriginal organizations.
Let me make the point that the Kelowna accord was not an agreement between the Liberal government and aboriginal peoples. It was an agreement between Canada and the aboriginal peoples of this country, as well as with the premiers and territorial leaders. To go back on a good faith agreement like that was very disappointing for many Canadians.
It is a sad state of affairs when aboriginal people are living in such poor conditions, whether it is drinking water, death in child birth, education levels, health levels or life expectancy. A $5 billion bottom up agreement was signed, sealed and delivered by the first nations people, with lots of money in the government coffers, and it is a shame that such an agreement would be cancelled.
The first nations people, aboriginal people and Inuit would love for the government to respect their human rights and not be one of the only countries in the United Nations to block them. A perfect example is that there is a bill that would allow aboriginal people to have the same access to human rights as others and yet almost all the aboriginal groups who came to committee said that there were no consultations and listed the six or seven things that needed to be fixed.
The government has had almost a year to fix those things, such as putting in a non-derogation clause, the interpretation clause, the time needed to implement the bill and the funds needed to train first nations. All those things were common among all witnesses. They said these things could have been done and the bill could have been passed. Hopefully, that type of process will occur.
First nations, Métis and Inuit have been virtually shut out of two budgets and two fiscal updates. As an example, budget 2007 had $6 billion in new funding for Canadians and, of that, $70 million were for aboriginals. In the government's other fiscal documents, the funding provided for housing, for example, had been previously booked. It was not new money.
The government ignored calls to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. On water, the government's own advisory committee warned against proceeding with legislation to establish drinking water standards for first nations communities without the necessary capital and infrastructure funding and yet there has been no action on this report. The current government must not ignore the voices of those who go against its refrain. When it comes to first nations issues, money is not the issue.
We saw the message regarding the child welfare crisis. The government may want to silence these voices but it should not. We are stronger as a nation when we are empowering the most vulnerable and not limiting them. The government is worse off without these voices.
On the land claim issues, the government has shown some political will to move forward and that is just on a small number of specific land claims, as I outlined at the beginning of my speech, and it did so in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations. I highly congratulate the government for that cooperation on this one particular item. Had it done so on the human rights legislation, we could have had that through long ago, but some are already saying that they were not allowed to speak.
We are definitely in support of the legislation, to a great extent because Phil Fontaine and the Assembly of First Nations want to be integrally involved in developing the legislation. We know their concerns and ideas have been taken into account, as they were when they negotiated the residential school claims with our government.
The thing that has to be looked at in committee to make sure we have it right is the cap of $150 million on any particular claim. There probably will not be very many. Most claims are granted much less than that granted. However, there could easily be some. If a judge were to think that a claim had been put in for $120 million and his analysis suggested that in fact the claimant deserved much more, would the government not provide it? How would that exactly work in those particular situations?
I should mention the tribunal. I am not sure if the word comes from the Roman tribunes, but with the letters t-r-i and the fact that there are six judges involved, people might think that, on a particular case, six judges are involved. However, that is not the case. Only one judge and one tribunal are involved in a particular case.
A treaty done on the prairies in 1800 said that there were several square miles of land and $120 million were promised but not provided, then the judge would hear all the details. He will be making a decision. It is a non-appealable decision, other than going through the courts. The people who are looking at the bill should ensure they are comfortable with that type of process.
As I said earlier, because only one person is making a non-appealable decision, we need to ensure it is the appropriate person, and the first nations wanted some input into that selection.
If one claim can be $150 million, is $250 million a year enough? If one is $150 million and there are 784 outstanding, will that be enough in a specific year? Once again, I am assuming that if the claims go forward as quickly as the government would like and it goes over the $250 million, that it would, on good faith, put money into the supplementary estimates to increase that.
In the context of 784 or more claims outstanding, we must remember that we have been doing an average of 20 cases a year and it has taken 13 years so obviously the process was not fixed.
As our aboriginal critic, the member for , who is doing an excellent job, said. We will be supporting this improvement to the system because in the old system the government was in a dispute with someone. There were two parties in the dispute and the judge in that dispute was the government, so there was the judge and the defendant, which is hardly fair.
We commend the government for working closely with the Assembly of First Nations to develop the bill. Wee look forward to having input in committee so that we can fine-tune it and make sure it works as all parties would like it to work to improve the lives of aboriginal people.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to explain that my riding includes the region of Nunavik, not Nunavut. There is a difference between the two territories, and I would not like to take the place of my Liberal colleague who represents Nunavut.
If I read correctly, this bill applies only to specific claims, but what are specific claims, in lay terms?
We do not need to look very far to learn that they originated in old grievances made by the first nations. These grievances have to do with negotiations Canada is required to conduct under historic treaties or the way the country has managed the money or other property belonging to the first nations, including reserve lands.
It is true that, since 1973, the government has had a policy and a process whereby it settles these claims through negotiation rather than in court.
However, there have been calls for measures to settle these disputes not just since 1973, but since July 1947, when a joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons made this recommendation:
|| That a Commission, in the nature of the Claims Commission, be set up with the least possible delay to inquire into the terms of the Indian treaties...and to appraise and settle in a just and equitable manner any claims or grievances arising thereunder.
It was not until 1961 that another joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons again recommended that a claims commission be set up and Prime Minister Diefenbaker's cabinet approved draft legislation to create a claims commission. However, as luck would have it, this draft legislation was never introduced, because of an election call.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson introduced Bill C-130, entitled the Indian Claims Act, in the House of Commons on December 14, 1963. He was determined to keep up with the true Conservatives. However, even back then, the government neglected to consult with the first nations, and the bill was withdrawn to allow time for consultation.
Another bill with the same title was introduced on June 21, 1965. June 21: what a lovely date. I can hardly wait for it to arrive. All kidding aside, guess what happened: yes, the bill died on the order paper when an election was called.
It was not until 1973 that further action was taken, with the establishment of the specific claims policy I mentioned at the very beginning of my remarks, which has been in effect to this day.
In the meantime, a government report on the administrative process for resolving specific claims was indeed published in 1979, citing conflicting duties and recommending the creation of an independent body which would in all respects be a specialized tribunal.
During the same period of time, the Penner report, published in 1983, called for a quasi-judicial process for managing failed negotiations and the neutral facilitation of negotiated settlements.
In 1990, in a report entitled “Unfinished Business: An Agenda for All Canadians in the 1990's”, a standing committee of the House of Commons reiterated the need for an independent claims body. At the same time, a joint working group bringing together representatives of Canada and the first nations—things are getting better—was looking at creating a permanent, legislative entity with tribunal-like powers, and finally in January 1991, the government created the Indian Specific Claims Commission under the federal Inquiries Act .
This commission was only intended as an interim measure, until a permanent independent body with adjudicative powers could be created. The commission remains in existence today, but continues to have only non-binding powers to make recommendations.
By 1996, the need was ever more pressing. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, whose report is commonly known as the Erasmus-Dussault report, conducted extensive consultations with first nations people across the country and recommended an independent tribunal to replace the ISCC and concentrate on land and treaty issues.
In 1998, the efforts of a joint Canada-first nations working group eventually led to Bill C-6, specific claims legislation which, this time, received royal assent, in November 2003. That legislation would have provided binding decision-making powers, including on those compensation amounts, estimated at $10 million, which first nations deemed insufficient. They rejected that. This is yet another fine example of consultation.
Here we are now, in 2007, with Bill , at a time when the political landscape has evolved somewhat, at least I hope so. To my knowledge, there are already particular conditions in Quebec, such as a specific first nations association with their own culture and needs. However, this government seems, deliberately or not, to have forgotten to consult those first nations. If we look at the timing of this bill, it is almost certain that we will have an election before it reaches third reading stage. In the end, this bill will only have served electoral purposes, as was the case with Kelowna, in 2005, with Bill C-130, in 1965, or with the Diefenbaker draft bill, in 1962.
In the explanatory notes that accompany this bill—and that were given to us by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development—it is mentioned that the new approach is based on a wealth of reports, studies and recommendations made by first nations in the past. I emphasize the expression “in the past”. I am prepared to believe that federal officials did consult a few first nations leaders, as they did in 1963 with Bill C-130, for which they had to go back again for another consultation, or in 2003 with Bill , for which they consulted a few first nations leaders. I sense that we will have to hear many more dissatisfied witnesses, as was the case with Bills C-44 and , which is now before us and regarding which the government merely changed the cover page, even though it is well aware of the fact that the various first nations associations are unhappy about it.
I feel a little sheepish for overestimating the 's vision and desire for transparency, a transparency that is less relevant than that of Quebec's dark ages under Duplessis, whom he reminds me of, if only because he is so blindly obstinate.
Like my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I will nevertheless support this bill, which will speed up the resolution of specific claims of first nations, a process that has been criticized since the 1940s, as I just described. It would still have to receive royal assent before an election, and all the first nations must agree to it.
How many times in the past have we heard the elected members of this government announce the support of provincial premiers or ministers, organizations or union leaders, when it was completely untrue? As some people would say, credibility goes hand in hand with accountability, which the government seems to be seriously lacking.
I would like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to the Whapmagoostui community and the family and friends of David Masty, a prominent Cree man who went missing in the waters of Hudson's Bay over the weekend. He was seen as an elder throughout northern Quebec. He was a longtime friend of mine for whom I had a lot of respect.
It goes without saying that we have some concerns about this bill, for example, the fact that a single judge will render a binding decision about a third party's responsibility for paying without that party even being involved in the judgment. Quebec assumes a great deal of responsibility towards first nations, so the other provinces and this government could be more vulnerable to this type of judgment. Could the judge unilaterally require a third party to pay 30% of a first nations claim? Once again, what about the government's fiduciary responsibility?
The Bloc Québécois recognizes that certain specific claims are a strictly federal responsibility. Various House committees have been recommending the establishment of this tribunal for more than 60 years, in order to resolve specific first nations claims, as mentioned at the beginning of my speech, with the expression of concern and regret over the fact that this government is, once again, ignoring Quebec's distinctiveness.
Given the current structure of the judicial appointment process, a contested process if ever there was one, it is worrisome to think that a decision by this tribunal could not be appealed, and this goes for Quebec as well as for first nations, even though the decision is subject to judicial oversight.
This approach will have consequences that first nations really need to consider carefully. No further legal action will be possible. The surrender of land rights will give a clear title to third parties who own the land, and the decisions of the tribunal will resolve, once and for all, all specific claims.
Given that a province, which does not attend a land claim ruling, has no obligation to compensate the first nation, it is possible that the first nation will use the federal decision to demand compensation from that province. What happens, then, to the federal fiduciary responsibility?
The Bloc Québécois has always supported aboriginal peoples in their quest for justice and recognition of their rights. We recognize that the 11 first nations of Quebec are nations in their own right. We recognize that they are distinct peoples with the right to their own culture, language, customs and traditions as well as the right to direct the development of their own identity.
For this reason, aboriginal peoples must have the tools to develop their own identity, namely the right to self-government and the recognition of their rights. The right to self-determination was recognized by the Bloc Québécois in 1993 in its manifeste du Forum paritaire Québécois-Autochtones, in the future country of Quebec where we will also be masters of our own culture and vision for the future.
Like my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I reiterate my support for this bill, which will speed up resolution of the specific claims of the first nations that have been ongoing for 70 years. However, this is contingent upon my not discovering along the way, as is the case with many other declarations, that the declaration is as false as the consultation of first nations.
Naturally we will have the opportunity to examine the bill in the standing committee. I have the privilege of being a member of that committee where we can observe the childish antics of the members of this government, who have demonstrated a chronic inability to accept other people's ideas.
That is perhaps why they continue to call themselves the new government. There are too many issues that have failed to advance. It is like a plumber who has not understood that something other than water may pass through a pipe. Or an electrician who believes that his job is to make wires pass through this same pipe. This leads to confrontations, such as those the government will have on the international stage, which unfortunately would have reflected on the whole country had it not been for the generosity of the Bloc Québécois members who helped their colleagues go to defend Quebec's integrity in Bali.
What a bunch of half-wits we would have looked like without those few sensible persons who, democratically, have an undeniable right, especially because in terms of simple distribution, this government only represents some 30% of the Canadian population! Unfortunately, we have not yet avoided this reputation, which we must acknowledge is not a source of pride.
We have not forgotten this government's stand with respect to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is enough to leave anyone involved with this bill perplexed.
We in northern Quebec certainly have our own concerns about the last James Bay agreement, which gave the Cree their share, although they are still awaiting the final agreement.
This is somewhat like Santa's sack, which he is holding in front of the beneficiaries, even though he has no intention of loosening the strings and handing out any presents. This is another point that reminds us of the dirty tricks of the Duplessis years.
It is like the hon. member for , who was elected based on his campaign promise to resolve the forestry crisis. He was elected at the beginning of September. The throne speech was presented at the end of October, but there was no mention of the forestry crisis. Nevertheless, he stood up and voted for that speech. This is not a problem; there are others just like him. In fact, one mayor in my riding stood up to protect this little sinking ship in a sea of Canadians—especially in the shadow of a big Albertan—who would include this topic in the next minibudget. Once again, they did not deliver.
Yet, his big Albertan, as a consolation prize, allows him to blather on, making a few silly remarks on occasion, getting a laugh out of the visitors' gallery, more often than not at his own expense. After all, there are still a few good little French Canadians in Quebec who have not yet managed to separate.
For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois must remain ever vigilant and uncompromising on behalf of all Quebeckers, aboriginal and non-aboriginal. This always leads us to demand that Quebec officials be consulted in the same way as Canadian officials.
We will therefore vote in favour of this bill, so we may study it and propose amendments, as needed.
Mr. Speaker, as I begin, I want to assure my colleague from the Bloc, the member for , that the commotion in this corner was New Democrat members defending him against the derision that was heaped on him by Conservative members during his speech. We were listening very carefully to his remarks.
Specifically, this afternoon we are discussing Bill , the specific claims tribunal act. I want to begin by saying that I represent people who live on Coast Salish territory on the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.
The New Democrats believe the legislation is long overdue. The NDP has long called for an independent specific claims tribunal. In fact, it was part of our election platform in at least the last two federal election campaigns and, as party policy, it was reaffirmed at a recent policy convention of the New Democratic Party. We strongly support this and we will support the bill.
We are a little hesitant today because all the experts on aboriginal affairs issues are in committee this afternoon. We think it is unfortunate that the government did not get the timing a little better today to ensure that Bill would be debated in the House at a time when Bill was not before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs in clause by clause discussion. Unfortunately many of our members, our experts in this place from all parties, have to be involved at committee today.
We support the legislation and we will want to work on again at committee, where witnesses will be heard and improvements made.
One of the reasons we support the legislation is we know it has been developed in consultation with first nations. This probably could have been more broad than it was, but it is an important step and we want to acknowledge that this consultative step was taken. We believe this is a good example of how this should be applied more broadly by the government in its relationships with first nations. We believe this might go some way to restoring the nation to nation relationship that existed at the time treaties were signed, and it needs to be part of negotiations of new treaties.
The context of our discussion today is one that is not all that positive, to put it mildly. We come to this discussion today after a long and sad history of discussion of specific claims in Canada. We have seen many reports and many attempts at legislation, even failed legislation, legislation that was passed and then proved unworkable.
This has gone on for many years, beginning with the Indian Act that was in place from 1927 to 1951. It prohibited band funds from being used to sue the government, to take the government to court, to change or to hold the government accountable for agreements and treaties and specific commitments that were made. Thankfully that was changed, but we have seen other things.
I think every decade has seen activity around the question of specific claims. In the 1940s we saw the original recommendation that there be a claims tribunal. Similarly there were recommendations in the 1950s. In the 1960s there was even legislation that died on the order paper, apparently twice. In the 1970s there were more recommendations and attempts. In the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People, one of the recommendations, on of the specific calls, was for an independent specific claims tribunal. In the 2000s, in the previous Parliament, we saw an attempt to deal with this issue in legislation, which has proven unworkable. Many attempts have been made over the long and sad history of dealing with this issue.
Therefore, we come to this today. We come hopeful that this current legislation will be more successful and will do more to address the specific issues that have been before us for so many decades in Canada.
I want to note that this attempt has been welcomed by first nations. In British Columbia that is also the case. The First Nations Leadership Council, which is comprised of the political executives of the First Nations Summit, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the BC Assembly of First Nations, has been optimistic about this process since it was first made public back in the late spring.
In a press release in June of this year, they said that they would welcome an independent body for specific claims that was being proposed and that they were cautiously optimistic regarding the proposals.
That is a good thing and I think we can all be pleased that there is this kind of optimism from the leadership of first nations regarding this process.
The First Nations Leadership Council points out that the specific claims that are being discussed arise from, as it puts it, Canada's breach or non-fulfillment of lawful obligations found in treaties, agreements or statutes, including the Indian Act. It points out that the existing 25 year old federal specific claims policy sets out the process for the resolution of these claims through determination of their validity and subsequent negotiations.
However, we have seen a terrible backlog and a gridlock in that resolution system. Currently there are over 900 specific claims designated as under review by the Government of Canada. It is important to note that almost half of those originate from B.C. first nations. Also, of the more than 300 claims currently at the Department of Justice awaiting legal review, 65% of those originate from B.C. first nations.
Therefore, B.C. first nations have a particular concern for this process. We have seen in reports that have been made, most recently the Senate report that was made in 2006, that B.C. was a particular subject in that report and the uniqueness of British Columbia when it comes to the outstanding specific claims, given that there are so many from British Columbia.
This is something that is of particular importance to first nations in British Columbia and, by the same token, to all people in British Columbia because we are anxious to see the relationship with our first nations restored and these specific claims resolved.
At the time, back in June when this proposal was announced, the leaders of the First Nations Leadership Council made various statements. Chief Shawn Atleo of the BC Assembly of First nations said:
|| An independent panel on specific claims is long overdue. Given this body will possess the necessary mandate with full decision-making authority and an appropriate level of financial and human resources, we expect they ensure that specific claims are fairly considered and equitably resolved in a timely manner.
That was a very important statement of support for this process that came from Chief Atleo.
Grand chief, Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, had this to say about the proposal. He said:
|| The Government of Canada acting as both the judge and jury in the specific claims process has been in a clear conflict of interest. Removing this conflict through the creation of an independent body will ensure that we do not have to wait ninety years to resolve the existing backlog of claims. Furthermore, an effective Specific Claims Policy must be fully committed to addressing, and not side-stepping, all types of claims regardless of size and scope.
While showing his interest in this proposal, Grand Chief Phillip also raised some challenges to the process and some issues that he hoped to see addressed by the legislation and, hopefully, if they are lacking, we can address those when this legislation is before the committee.
Back in June, grand chief, Edward John, political executive of the First Nations Summit, said:
|| We fully support the recommendations of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. In particular, we fully agree with the recommendation that First Nations need to be “full partners” with the Government of Canada in the development of legislation and policy to ensure that Canada meets its lawful obligations to First Nations in the resolution of specific claims.
Again, that reiterates a point I made at the beginning of my speech about the importance of that kind of consultation going into legislative proposals that are brought before the House. We are glad at least to some extent that kind of consultation did take place on this legislation.
Those were some of the concerns raised by the First Nations Leadership Council in British Columbia. It does indicate its support for the legislation but it has raised some specific concerns. I know that the New Democratic Party's aboriginal affairs critic, the member for , will be raising those issues at committee and will be working to ensure that witnesses appear before the committee who can expand on those concerns.
One of the specific concerns that arises is the $150 million cap on the value of claims that can be referred to the tribunal for validation and settlement. One of the concerns about that cap is exactly how it will be determined, how the value of that claim will be calculated. There is a concern about wanting to be consistent and wanting to ensure that it best represents the interests of first nations in calculating that amount.
Another concern that has been raised by the B.C. chiefs is the need for more resources to be dedicated to the research, negotiation and settlement of B.C. specific claims which comprise nearly half the claims in the system and 62% of the claims in the Department of Justice backlog.
We have heard that many times from leaders in the aboriginal community but also from the Senate committee that looked at the situation and wrote a report in 2006 called “Negotiations or Confrontation: It's Canada's Choice”. The Senate committee spent considerable time and effort looking at the question of limited resources in the current process.
These are all things that we would want to avoid in the new process: things like the constant turnover of staff, the ever-increasing backlog, the lack of training that researchers have which often leads to the repetition of historical errors, of frustration and inefficiency in the system. Another one of the resource issues is the inability to have inappropriate information sharing among the parties involved.
Those are some of the specific lack of resource issues that we believe need to be addressed in Bill and in the regulations and implementation that follows from it. Without appropriate resources to do this work, it will not be done well or it will not be done at all perhaps. This is something we will want to make sure is followed up on.
Concerns have also been expressed by the aboriginal first nations leadership in British Columbia about the exact definition of specific claims. Clearly, that is something that will need to be looked at and resolved because there is no sense having a specific claims tribunal process where there is concern about what the definition of those claims actually is.
I think the first nations of British Columbia also have a number of concerns that they will be raising and it is our intention to ensure that opportunity is provided at the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development when it is looking at this legislation.
Another concern is about the appointment of the tribunal and who serves on the tribunal itself. We want to be sure that first nations are represented in that process of appointment. The resolution of these specific claims should not be solely at Canada's discretion. Canada again cannot be put in the position of being judge and jury on these issues at the same time. We need to ensure the independence of this process, which is the intention of this legislation, but we also need to consider the appointment process of those who sit on the tribunal to ensure they are representative of all the parties, are truly independent and can make the best and most appropriate decisions related to these specific claims. That is something else that we, for our part, will be pursuing in conjunction with first nations at the committee.
I think it is important to point out that we need to make progress on these sorts of legal arrangements to settle specific claims. This mechanism has been too cumbersome, too unproductive, has caused too much tension and too much uncertainty and instability in Canada for far too long. We need to ensure we have an effective process for resolving these issues.
In her speech earlier today, my colleague from said that we needed to be aware that having the most just process in this case, the most legal process, the best court process that we can have does not necessarily solve the problem of reconciliation between first nations and Canada. We need to ensure we have an early and honourable reconciliation and avoid endless appeals and endless court processes that may not allow us to live together successfully.
Many experts, including many judicial experts and judges themselves, say that reconciliation cannot be dealt with in a courtroom, which is one of the most confrontational settings that we have in our society.
I hope we will also look down the road to reconciliation and how this resolution of specific claims fits into that broader question of reconciliation between Canada and first nations.
We are looking forward to working on many things at committee. One of the other issues that should be reviewed at the aboriginal affairs committee is the political accord that was also signed at the time this legislation was tabled, the political accord that will deal with claims above $150 million. This legislation only deals with claims under $150 million.
Many issues need to be looked at. There are questions about why those claims are outside of any legislative process. Maybe they should have been included in Bill or other legislation. I think that is very important.
However, we are glad that this agreement was signed between the government and the grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations, but I do have some questions and I think that there needs to be some further discussion of those issues as well.
I hope we can avoid some of the problems that we have seen in the history of our relationship between Canada and first nations. I hope we can avoid some of the problems we have seen with the Conservative government's failure to recognize the Kelowna accord and the transformative change accord that was signed with the first nations of British Columbia, the Government of Canada and the B.C. government at the same time as the Kelowna accord.
We want to ensure those agreement are honoured. We have supported those agreements here. Some of our concern about not honouring those kinds of agreements goes to the whole context of how we resolve other issues between Canada and first nations. A history of failure to live up to agreements, accords and treaties that we have negotiated does not help us resolve the problems that are before us currently.
The New Democratic Party is looking forward to seeing the legislation go to the committee and we too support getting it there. We do not believe in rushing things off to committee without appropriate debate here in the House of Commons because that is part of the legislative process in this place. We will be doing that and we will be taking care to look at all aspects of the legislation as it comes before the House and as it comes before committee.
Sometimes in this place, when we go gangbusters, we miss important issues and make mistakes. We cannot afford to do that. We are looking forward to getting this to committee, hearing from appropriate witnesses and, hopefully, making this the best possible legislation we can to deal with the issue of specific claims.