Mr. Speaker, it is a relief when calm returns to this place. It is too bad that people sometimes get carried away in question period.
Now, back to the work at hand, which I find much more interesting than question period. I refer to Bill concerning Cree and native communities in northern Quebec.
As I have eight minutes left, and now one less, I would like to point out that the bill is in negotiation. The agreement has been in negotiation since 1984. Following the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, it took nine years for discussions to begin to reach the agreement signed by representatives of the nine Cree communities and the Government of Canada.
The agreement will give greater autonomy to the Cree and the Naskapi, in fact, more to the Cree than to the Naskapi because there is still room for an agreement with the Naskapi. The lands of these two communities overlap and so an agreement with the Naskapi is required as well.
The land mentioned in the agreement overlaps part of the land of the Inuit in Quebec, but, overall, the James Bay Cree should end up with full autonomy with regard to the Canadian government through the agreement. Accordingly, the Cree Regional Authority will be able to take over the federal government's responsibilities under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
It was in fact essential for the Cree to come to an agreement with the federal government and with the Quebec government pursuant to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. It appears that these agreements are now complete and finalized. We can very soon allow the Cree to move to full autonomy over their ancestral land. This is the intent of Bill .
We will support this bill because we consider it important to support autonomy and the native peoples. The Bloc has always recognized that native peoples are distinct and have a right to their culture, language, customs and traditions and to choose the way their identity will be developed. That is what is happening with this bill.
I do not have a lot of time left, but I want to emphasize before the House that when the government can and wants to, it is possible to reach agreements with native peoples. I believe that this agreement with the Cree paves the way for further agreements. What we would most like to see are further agreements with the Innu, Algonquin, Attikamek and Naskapi so that aboriginal communities not only have rights and responsibilities but are also allowed to develop in accordance with their ancestral customs on their ancestral lands. That is what this bill will achieve.
We should remember that there was a Cree-Naskapi Commission, which made a number of recommendations.
There were 20 of them, and I would like to highlight a few: full and explicit recognition of the inherent right of Eeyou self-government—that is what this bill provides; recognition of the existence and application of Eeyou traditional law, customs and practices in the exercise and practice of Eeyou self-government; and elimination of provisions that conflict with Eeyou traditional law, customs and practices.
All that will be achieved, therefore, on their lands. I read only three of the 20 recommendations. The important thing is that henceforth they will be self-governing and will have jurisdiction over their ancestral lands, which will enable the Cree to develop. The Eeyou community will also be able to develop in accordance with its customs.
We think, therefore, that this is an excellent bill. When the government wants to, it can sit down at the table. It should do the same in regard to Bill on matrimonial rights in aboriginal communities. This bill has been severely criticized by all feminist organizations and aboriginal associations and communities. We think the government should go back to the drawing board and introduce a new Bill C-8.
We hope, in conclusion, that Bill passes quickly so that Cree community self-government can be established. We hope this government develops in accordance with the ancestral customs of the Cree. I can only hope one more thing: that this entente cordiale between the Cree and the federal government proves sustainable and leads to the development of these communities, which are located in a part of the country where life is not easy.
I wish them, therefore, the best of luck. I hope that the wishes and desires of the Cree communities which signed the agreement leading to Bill will all be realized. It is the Bloc’s greatest hope that the Cree communities joined together in the Grand Council of the Crees achieve their independence, live finally in accordance with their traditional customs on their own lands, develop themselves and administer what is lawfully theirs, that is to say, their ancestral territory.
Mr. Speaker, I too am rising in support of Bill . New Democrats very strongly support this important legislation.
I want to provide a bit of background because the amendment has been in the works for a number of years. There is a long history around the Cree Naskapi in Quebec. The James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement was signed in 1975 and was Canada's first modern land claims settlement. However, this settlement was an outstanding Cree and Inuit claim to aboriginal rights and titles dating back to the 1800s. The agreement should have been signed a century or more before, but it took from some time in the 1800s until 1975 to have an agreement put in place.
I am from British Columbia and although some land claims agreements have been signed, many nations there are still without those kinds of agreements. Something has been put in place in British Columbia called the common table and roughly 60 nations have signed on to the unity protocol. If we can have the kind of movement on treaties and land claims that we have seen around the amendments to the Cree-Naskapi Act, that would be a welcome opportunity in B.C.
As to the history around this agreement, in 1975, when the province of Quebec announced its intention to develop the hydroelectric potential in the James Bay region, the commitment to recognize Cree and Inuit rights had not yet been fulfilled by the federal and provincial governments. Court injunctions were put in place in order to push back on the fact that the Cree and Inuit had not been consulted. Ultimately, it culminated in the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement, but that agreement was negotiated without any implementation plan. It continued for many more years.
I want to read from the testimony that was provided to the committee by the Grand Council of the Crees. In its testimony it highlighted some of the events that took place. It said:
The Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act was passed by Parliament in 1984 after several years of discussion between the parties and consultations with the Cree communities and the Naskapi Band. With great difficulty, a new funding regime was eventually put in place by Canada that was compatible with the assumption by the Cree communities of new responsibilities in respect to the planning priorities for their development and administration.
After adoption of the act, and to the present day, the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec/Cree Regional Authority has acted as a forum for the concerted implementation of the act. It also continues to be the guarantor and protector of Cree rights. While the act opened the door for the assumption by the Cree communities of certain responsibilities concerning their development, there were still many aspects of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement that had not been properly implemented by Quebec and Canada.
It was the announcement by Quebec of its intention to build further hydroelectric development projects in the territory—and particularly the Great Whale hydroelectric project—that sparked the Crees in 1989 to take out a comprehensive court action that sought to stop the proposed developments and also sought the implementation of those numerous aspects of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement that had not been implemented by Canada and Quebec.
We can see there was a very lengthy, convoluted, litigious process put in place.
It goes on to say:
When Canada and the Crees entered into out-of-court discussions from 2005 to 2008, this model of devolving to the Crees the planning and setting of priorities for the certain of the obligations that were in dispute was found to be adaptable to the issues between the parties.
I want to backtrack a little. In February 2002, the province of Quebec and the Crees signed the agreement respecting a new relationship between the Government of Quebec and the Cree of Quebec, known as the Paix des Braves. The Cree agreed to discontinue most of their court cases against Quebec and suspend others with respect to matters shared with the government.
This agreement eventually led to this new relationships agreement. Although it is not part of this legislation, it was a new relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee. This was an important document because chapter 3 of this new relationship agreement outlined a two-stage process that would look at the implementation of some of the previous agreement that was signed.
This new relationship agreement includes a mutually agreed upon James Bay and northern Quebec implementation plan for the next 20 years, resolution of pre-litigation and other grievances, in addition to a phased approach toward Cree governance modernization.
At the heart of this what we have in the bill before us is only part of what needs to happen. Bill is only stage one. The commitment in the new relationship agreement said that within 18 months roughly this amendment to the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act would be brought forward as part one.
Bill would carry out two main objectives. One would be to equip the Cree Regional Authority with additional responsibilities and powers, including bylaw making powers, so that the authority would be better able to receive and carry out certain specified responsibilities which are assumed by the federal government under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and recognize the Crees of Oujé-Bougoumou as a separate band and local government under the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act.
We have heard across the board that the nations involved in this and the other nations that are on the other aspects of this agreement are all in agreement that this has to happen. There is full support for the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act amendments.
The next stage, on which all parties have agreed there is a process in place, is that within three to five years another set of amendments would be brought forward to look at the autonomous governance structure that the Crees are fully entitled to have put in place.
Prior to colonization, the Cree nations were an autonomous nation. They had full control over their social, economic and, I would argue, environmental issues, because they were the stewards of the land. They were a fully functioning government structure. Part of this agreement examines the changes that need to be put in place for part two.
We have had assurances from the government and some comfort from the Cree nations that they feel confident that this process will be in place to see these part two amendments come forward within three to five years. I am sure all members of this House would welcome that. Sadly, it took 19 years to get this first set of amendments in place, but they are before us now and we are fully supportive of them.
Part of what was successful was the consultation process.
I want to backtrack for a moment and mention the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although Canada has not signed on to this aspirational document, I think it does include a framework that is important for us to reflect upon when we are talking about indigenous peoples, first nations peoples, first peoples of this country. There are many articles, but I want to refer to article 18, which states:
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.
With respect to the consultation process, the briefing document that was provided to members talks about the kind of consultation that happened. We have consensus on all sides on Bill .
At committee we heard that the Department of Justice was involved with Indian and Northern Affairs right from the outset. The Auditor General, when reviewing other land claims agreements, has said that often the Department of Justice comes in at the tail end. What happens is that a process may have been ongoing for a number of years and when it is down to the final details, all of a sudden the Department of Justices will say, “Wait a minute. Hold on. We have a problem with this”.
I would suggest that the government look at this particular case, Bill , as a model of how it might want to consider other negotiations, whether it is land claims, treaties, or self-governance, and include the relevant departments at the beginning so that we do not run into roadblocks.
The Auditor General was before the committee regarding additions to reserves and treaty land entitlement, and what we discovered of course is that there is not that concerted effort in looking at these agreements.
With respect to the consultation process, the briefing documents acknowledge that under the new relationship agreement, the Government of Canada is obliged to consult with the Grand Council of the Crees. That in itself is progress. The government is acknowledging the need to consult.
The briefing documents talk about what the consultation process looks like with the Cree. Meetings were held with the Cree, including the Crees of Oujé-Bougoumou, with their legal representatives throughout the drafting of the legislation which began in 2007. There were formal meetings, conference calls and many exchanges of letters and emails. Both the English and the French texts of the legislation were reviewed by the Cree. The Government of Canada considered all suggestions proposed by the Cree, and the input received was reflected in the proposed legislation.
That seems to be a very reasonable approach. We have legislation that has a direct impact on the lives of the people in the Cree communities. The Cree was an autonomous self-governing nation prior to colonial times. The Cree have the capability, the infrastructure, and the leadership in place to directly address the issues facing their communities. It would seem reasonable that when the government is drafting legislation that is going to have a direct impact on their communities that they would be included from the outset.
We have seen success with this approach. Bill , because of that very reasonable approach, has had rapid passage through the House and through the committee. The committee certainly heard from witnesses. We did our due diligence. We heard from witnesses who were being impacted by the legislation. We heard consistently that because of this reasonable process, people could sign on to it.
The Cree nations had an opportunity to take this back to their communities, because it was drafted in conjunction with them, get feedback and input, and suggest changes. Here we have a bill before the House that has had smooth sailing because of that process.
Sadly, we have not seen that with respect to other pieces of legislation. A member from the Bloc mentioned the matrimonial real property bill, but I want to raise it as well because that bill has not had a smooth ride.
What the government deems has been consultation, the nations are saying was not consultation because they did not develop that process in conjunction with the nations that were going to be affected.
The ministerial representative's report that the government commissioned made a number of recommendations with regard to consultation.
Some of the elements in the consultation process that was used on Bill were the very elements the ministerial representative touched on. She said that the department should develop as soon as possible specific policies and procedures related to consultation in order to ensure that future consultation activities can identify and discharge any legal duty to consult while also fulfilling the objectives of good governance and public policy.
She went on to outline a number of factors:
Ensuring First Nations have relevant information to the issues for decision in a timely manner.
With respect to Bill , it appears that the Cree nations had the information they required to make the decisions. There was an ongoing exchange of information. Some of the suggestions they made were incorporated into the bill. There was goodwill in terms of the next stage of the process, so there was success.
Providing an opportunity for First Nations to express their concerns and views on potential impacts of the legislative proposal and issues relating to the existence of a duty to consult.
I have already outlined that they had that opportunity for input. She also stated:
Listening to, analyzing and seriously considering the representations and concerns of First Nations in the context of relevant legal and policy principles including their relationship to other constitutional and human rights principles.
In this particular case, the Cree and Oujé-Bougoumou had an opportunity to do that analysis, provide their input and have it incorporated. She states:
Ensuring proper analyses by the Department of Justice of section 35 issues relating to any proposed legislative initiative are thoroughly canvassed before, during and after consultations.
Although this may not have been a section 35 issue, the Department of Justice was at the table throughout the process and therefore, the department did not become a roadblock further on down the road. Under the old specific claims process, specific claims could languish in the Department of Justice for years without any decision being made. Again, it is a model I would urge the government to consider, to include the Department of Justice, and other departments, right up front. In some cases the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of the Environment have a stake in whatever is under negotiation. It would be important to have them at the table right at the outset.
The ministerial representative recommended:
Seriously considering proposals for mitigating potentially negative impacts on aboriginal and treaty rights or other rights and interests of First Nations and making necessary accommodations by changing the government's proposal.
In this case, the government's own briefing documents indicate that it incorporated the feedback and made some changes as it went along. Further, she recommended:
Establishing, in consultation with First Nations, a protocol for the development of legislative proposals.
Because another series of amendments will be coming up, we fully expect that the framework used in the Bill amendments will be used in the next series of amendments. The ministerial representative has clearly outlined the process, which appears largely to have been used in the current process.
For example, we know that the government has a process under way around aboriginal consultation and accommodation. It is called, “Interim Guidelines for Federal Officials to Fulfill the Legal Duty to Consult”. The department might want to consider some of these other recommendations that were made, because it appears that first nations have not been included in drafting these interim guidelines.
This looks like an internal risk management exercise for the federal government rather than looking at the broad context of what it means to consult. At one point the document talks about making sure that the government essentially covered its aspect of it without considering whether first nations have been given an appropriate opportunity and the resources. We also know that many first nations communities simply do not have the money to do the kind of work that would provide the feedback and input into a fulsome consultative process.
There is evidence of success with Bill . This evidence of success and this piece of legislation that seems to meet the needs of the government and the Cree nations involved would be a good model on which to move forward.
It is very important that we support Bill and that it is passed so that the other place can do its due diligence with this legislation. It is a success for the Cree nations and a positive step forward in terms of their assuming their rightful position in self-governance, in assuming the full responsibilities and duties that come with the Cree peoples taking on their bylaws and governance structure.
I am celebrating the NDP's support of this important piece of legislation. I look forward to the amendments coming forward in the next three to five years that will also honour that same process. Hopefully, the lessons learned from Bill can be applied to other agreements throughout this country.
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from the NDP, who is also my neighbour on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. I want to congratulate her too on her French. I used to be able to say anything at all about her so long as it was in French, but I cannot do that any more. She has learned a lot from the James Bay Cree. If we look at what has been happening in Vancouver since she found out about the Cree, first nations issues have been settled much more easily. She can use Quebec’s experience with the first nations and apply it to British Columbia. The parliamentary secretary realized this and was actually quite happy about it, given the way he reacts when our colleague stands and speaks in the House.
I am very proud of the determination and pride of the Quebec Cree. I cannot speak for the Cree of Ontario or other provinces because, apart from the witnesses who appear before us in committee, I have not had much opportunity to talk to them. Generally speaking, though, the Cree rely a lot on the comprehension and understanding shown by the members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development when they come to see us and try to make us grasp their problems and view of things, which is not necessarily our own.
For example, in regard to Bill C-28 before us today, we should not forget that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement has been in negotiation since 1973. Negotiations started as far back as 1973, under René Lévesque, in connection with the James Bay power project. After the project was developed on their lands, the Cree decided to claim some of the benefits. We well remember how hard they had to fight, even going to New York, if I remember correctly, to assert their rights.
Bill C-28 arose pursuant to the promises Canada made in the subsequent agreements. Its purpose is to implement these promises: the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, signed in 1975; the 1992 Oujé-Bougoumou/Canada Agreement, in which Canada promised to remedy the failure to include the Cree of Oujé-Bougoumou in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement; the Cree and Naskapi legislation; and the 2008 Agreement concerning a New Relationship between the Government of Canada and the Cree of Eeyou Istchee, which reaffirmed the promise to give the Cree Regional Authority greater governance powers over the development of the James Bay Cree. I am very happy for the chief of Oujé-Bougoumou, whom I hold in high esteem. She is a very nice lady who has now become a very great lady.
As I just said, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement has been in negotiation since 1973. It comes from the Eeyou Istchee Cree, which translates as the land of the Cree of James Bay, Quebec. The association of Inuit of New Quebec entered into negotiations with the Government of Quebec, the federal government, Hydro-Québec and the James Bay energy corporation. At that point, they focused on the regions and the people in them, recognizing and protecting certain rights and benefits. The negotiations concluded with the signing in 1975 of the James Bay agreement, the first comprehensive land claim agreement in Canada, which today is protected under the Constitution as a modern treaty, pursuant to section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In this agreement, the Cree gave up, transferred and dropped all claims, rights, titles and native interests to and in the lands in the area and in Quebec in exchange for clearly defined rights and benefits.
The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement recognized eight bands. This land regime defined three categories of land. I will not enumerate them. In the 1975 agreement, with Oujé-Bougoumou not yet a reserve or even a recognized band, it had to fight until 1992 for recognition and to obtain its own village.
The current agreement comes under the heading of local administration. The Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act establishes the eight bands as corporations recognized by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and establishes their powers in the following areas—making bylaws with respect to category IA lands under section 45; regulation of buildings for the protection of public safety; health and hygiene; public order and safety; the protection of the environment; the prevention of pollution; the taxation for local purposes of a broad range of local services; roads, traffic and transportation; the operation of businesses and the carrying on of trades; and parks and recreation.
Other sections concern band financial administration, residence, access and other rights on category IA lands, the disposition of interests in these lands, and policing.
Bill provides amendments for each of these parties, thus giving considerable autonomy. Unfortunately, it is not yet complete, but it is the most progressive in Canada at the moment. I offer the example of an agreement signed not so long ago with a first nations band from my colleague's area, which was also granted autonomy. It was obtained through negotiation, consultation and agreements.
I was listening to the parliamentary secretary reminding us of Bill . The government consulted some people, including women and the Assembly of First Nations. When this bill was introduced, we understood that the Assembly of First Nations acknowledged being consulted. The Native Women's Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and Quebec Native Women also acknowledged being consulted. However, that is where the existing agreement between the department and these associations representing first nations stops. Consulting and taking nothing from the consultation contributes nothing.
This is why the first nations of Canada and of Quebec have spoken out against Bill , as they did against C-44 and C-21, and as they will continue to do just as long as we do not recognize the philosophy and way of life, the culture and the needs of all first nations. When they ask for something in consultations, it is not enough just to listen but do nothing. Their needs must be taken into consideration. They are persons just as we are persons. Many more agreements can be reached, and I am proud of this for the James Bay Cree.
In committee, after our discussions, unanimity was reached on this bill with the exception of one minor change proposed by the government, which was to adapt the English version to the French in a certain clause, because the French definition was more accurate than the English.
The bill received unanimous support and I sincerely hope that the House will also support it when it comes time to vote. For its part, the Bloc Québécois supports the first nations, as it always has, for that matter.
The Bloc Québécois has made it our duty to support the first nations across Canada, not just in Quebec. We know that the first nations of Canada in general have experienced more or less the same difficulties, and the Bloc Québécois recognizes the aboriginal peoples as distinct peoples with the right to their culture, their language, their customs and traditions, as well as the right to direct the development of that unique identity themselves.
In so doing, it is respecting the direction taken by René Lévesque, a staunch defender of aboriginal peoples, who made Quebec the first government in America to recognize the aboriginal nations in its midst.
Bill is in fact the extension of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and of the Paix des Braves, which was signed under Bernard Landry and the Parti Québécois. Bill enables the federal government to fulfill its obligations to the Cree-Naskapi.
In 2004, the leader of the Bloc Québécois said the following:
The Paix des Braves ratified by the Government of Quebec and representatives of the Cree Nation has paved the way for these kinds of negotiations and demonstrated that major development projects have to be negotiated with mutual interests in mind. The Bloc Québécois supports the first nations in their fight for emancipation. That is why we are asking Ottawa to follow this example to negotiate a similar agreement with Cree Nation representatives.
In its 2008 report, the Cree-Naskapi Commission identified the negative outcome of the federal government's failure to respect the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement:
Consequently, the full potential of local self-government, with its dynamic and evolving nature, has not yet been realized nor achieved by the Cree and Naskapi First Nations because, as one principal constraint, the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act, after twenty-four (24) years, remains an inflexible, rigid instrument which has not yet been reviewed by Canada, the Cree and Naskapi for the purposes of determining appropriate amendments to enhance and improve Cree and Naskapi local government.
The commission issued a series of recommendations that I will not get into now because most of their demands have been acknowledged in this bill. That is the big difference between this bill and Bill , which we will soon be debating.
I was listening to the member for earlier, and she was saying that the government had held extensive consultations. That is true, but the extent of the negotiations has little to do with whether the government understood the demands put forward during the consultations. I would like the government to understand that. We could avoid all kinds of futile, useless discussions and debates if only we really listened to the people we were talking to.
I will end on that note. I really hope that all parties in the House will support this bill so that it can make its way to the Senate quickly.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak today to this bill that recognizes the rights of the James Bay Cree of Quebec and would set in place a framework to move forward. It is one of those few occasions where we see all members of Parliament working together for a result that is needed and that can actually set a standard to move forward.
I would like to begin this afternoon by placing this agreement in terms of the context so we have a real understanding of what it is we are talking about. As much as we support the bill and recognize the importance of the bill, we need to put it in terms of the overall failure of the federal government to put in place similar agreements elsewhere. We go back to the 1970s, the time when the James Bay projects were first being enacted in the province of Quebec. I think my colleagues from Quebec will agree that at that time the understanding of first nation relations was very different.
When I worked in the region of Abitibi, I remember people talking about how the first nations were for many years considered squatters on their land. The idea of developing projects, whether it was hydroelectric projects, forestry projects or mining projects, they were never done in consultation with the first nation communities affected. In fact, this has been a situation that has gone on right across Canada. Even last year we saw the McGuinty government in Ontario jailing leaders of a first nation community who were trying to lay down some basic ground rules about consultations in their community.
The James Bay agreement stemmed out of what started as the James Bay Cree fighting to be recognized on their own territory and to say that if there were to be development, they would be at the table. If there were to be benefits, they wanted their people to see some of those benefits because they would be the ones living with the long term effects of the massive hydro developments being proposed at that time by the Bourassa government.
The James Bay agreement originally came into place because the province of Quebec recognized at a certain point that it would not be able to go ahead with development without a framework agreement in place with the James Bay Cree. There was too much international pressure. The Cree, Billy Diamond, Matthew Coon Comb, the whole leadership of that period, mounted such an amazing international fight that Quebec came to the table and, because Quebec came to the table, they said that the federal government had to come to the table as well.
We do not see the federal government going out and settling land issues. It is not in the business of doing that. Time and time again, it dodges its obligations. It has refused to meet with first nations communities on the most basic issues. In terms of the initial James Bay agreement, it was because Quebec recognized that if it were to get hydroelectric development off the ground it would need to have an agreement and to have an agreement there needed to be a provincial and federal détente.
The original James Bay agreement set the framework for the Cree of James Bay of Quebec to actually begin to participate in the 20th and 21st century economy and to set a standard in place that every first nation across this country has looked to. The idea of revenue sharing agreements used to be seen as revolutionary and now it is what first nations recognize is needed to go forward.
I would like to compare the situation of the original James Bay Cree agreement, the Paix des Braves, with the bill we are looking at today, Bill , in terms of the development of treaties on the ground and the success of the James Bay Cree, but compare it to the difficulties being faced by other first nation communities that are also trying to establish agreements.
I represent the James Bay region of Ontario and we could not see a starker contrast in terms of first nations development between the James Bay communities of Ontario and the James Bay communities of Quebec where both the federal government and provincial government in Ontario consistently walked away from basic obligations for infrastructure, education and health services that have left the communities in levels of poverty that most Canadians would not believe exist, but on the James Bay of Ontario it is all too often the daily occurrence.
I had the distinct pleasure in a past life to travel along the James Bay coast of Quebec where I saw proper roads, proper houses built and the people were part of the economy. This is not to underplay any of the problems that may exist on the James Bay coast of Quebec but to say that we have a very distinct situation in Ontario.
In my role as a member of Parliament, I took part in the Treaty 9 centenary that was happening across the great territory of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which is part of the region I represent. It has been 100 years since the signing of the treaty.
Being in communities such as Martin River, Fort Albany, Kashechewan and Moose Factory, I got a very different view of what those treaties meant than the politicians who were coming in to so-called celebrate it. In many of the communities I went to, people said there was not really much to celebrate in the fact that they signed off their land in good faith, to work as partners, to develop and to give their people a chance. The white commissioners at that time saw the treaties as a way of taking the land and putting the communities onto these pitiful reservations.
There is a difference in how the people talk about the treaties. It is clear that once the federal government signed the treaty, and in fact the province of Ontario signed Treaty 9 as well, as far as it was concerned it was finished with its obligations. It walked away on these communities. In the first nations communities, they still talk about what the treaties meant.
Let us look at the historical records of Treaty 9 communities, such as the Mushkego Cree of James Bay, Ontario. One of the reasons they signed the treaty was because they recognized that with the pressures on the change of life, with the Hudson's Bay factors who had lorded over the land for many years, there was a change coming. They were worried about the future of their children.
One of the key things they talked about in agreeing to sign that treaty was that they wanted their children educated. They would make the agreement to share their land, but they wanted their children to have proper schools. We know that the federal government never lived up to that obligation. In fact, it brought in a system of residential schools, not just on the James Bay coast but all across the territory, that inflicted massive generational wounds on these communities.
Even to this day, in my region of Timmins--James Bay, we have two communities with no schools. There seems to be no plan for schools from the government. There seems to be no awareness by the government of a need to build schools. We see that the treaties that were signed were broken.
Having worked as a land negotiator with the Algonquin Nation, I learned very quickly that the word of the federal government often meant very little when it signed an agreement. It signed an agreement as long as the media lights were on and the ink was still wet on the page, but then when it left, whatever agreements a community may have had, the federal government said, “Take us to court”. Of course the communities are too poor to take it to court.
I was working in the community of Barriere Lake after it signed an agreement with the federal government in 1998 to rebuild the community. I was there five or six years later and not a single new dwelling had been built, even though we had an agreement on paper, signed by the federal government, to work with the community to bring it out of its horrific levels of poverty in Barriere Lake.
I sat in on a meeting in November 2005 with the minister of Indian affairs and all the top bureaucrats from Indian affairs to sign an agreement to build a new community for the crisis-ridden community of Kashechewan. I remember that when we were signing that agreement, it was vague, that the verbal agreements that we had been given by the minister and by the senior Indian affairs department heads were not on paper. They had made promises to work and rebuild the community, but none of the commitments we had in terms of moving to higher ground, of a timeline, of how many houses would be part of a movement to get that crisis-ridden community off a flood plain, were in the agreement.
We were told by the Indian affairs senior administration that it would be a sign of good faith and trust to just sign the agreement. Here we had a community that had been evacuated three times in one year because of a failure of infrastructure, because of the crisis that the community had been put through by the mismanagement of their land and their infrastructure by the federal government.
The community was in a desperate situation and they signed that agreement, just as so many first nation communities have signed agreements over the years, in the best of faith. They believed that when the people sitting across the table from them, who represented the Crown, who represented the federal Government of Canada, said that they would follow through, they would mean it. The fact that everything was not spelled out in the agreement was not a problem because they told the community to its face that the agreement would be respected.
The results are clear. Less than a year later we had the government standing and saying there never was an agreement and there never was money set aside for the community of Kashechewan, there was no plan and this was all somehow a figment of people's imaginations and we misinterpreted what was said at the meeting even though we were there with the senior representatives, the senior civil servants of this country in terms of Indian affairs, and the minister and the senior political staff.
We can see the frustration that exists in communities that take the federal government at its word when it comes to negotiating agreements. The failure of the government to live up to basic standards is evidenced for example going back to the community of Kashechewan.
Just a year and a half ago we had two young men, Jamie Goodwin and Ricardo Wesley, who burned to death in a shack. That shack just happened to be a police station. It was a police station because there was no adequate police service facilities in the community of Kashechewan and there were no fire services in the community of Kashechewan. The Nishnawbe-Aski Police had been warning for years that unless the agreement that existed to fund first nation police services was addressed that someone would be hurt, someone would die, perhaps a citizen in a community where there was no police service, perhaps a police officer in an isolated community who had no backup.
Unfortunately, in Kashechewan, it was the case of two young men who were not criminals. They were just young and rambunctious and they caught in a jail cell that should not have been used as a jail cell anywhere else in the western world, and they burned to death.
I was in that jail before those men died. I was there with the Ontario minister of public safety and security and we showed him this building that looked like a crackshack in a war zone. We told him that this is what police officers are having to make do with and something should done.
We spoke in the House of Commons about the need to have agreements in place. It comes back to the issue of being at the table and signing agreements. In terms of police services, it is the federal government and the provincial government that sign these agreements with, for example, the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Services or with health services. Then, both the federal government and the provincial government walk away on those commitments, and the communities are left suffering.
The fire inquest has just finished in Ontario. The recommendations are damning. They are recommendations that we would have seen in any non-native community 40 or 50 years ago in terms of basic standards that have to be in place. For example, we need fire suppression, we need water sprinklers in any building, we need proper facilities, and we need proper funding for police services in these communities. The issue then becomes that agreements are signed but they are not signed in good faith, not by the federal government, very rarely.
I would like to say in the case of Bill , we have an agreement that works. I think we have that agreement because it was the Grand Council of the Crees who fought for so long and said, “This is our territory. When development happens on our territory, it will happen with our consent and unless they have our consent there will be no moving forward”. There was a very clear initial hard line. All the communities worked together to maintain that line. It brought the province of Quebec to the table and then brought the federal government to the table.
I would like to think that it does not take a hard line to get other agreements in place. However, I wonder some days. I wonder when we see the recent report by the parliamentary budget officer and the shameful lack of standards for first nations schools. Again, we talk about agreements that are made and agreements that are broken, and they are casually broken.
In the community of Attawapiskat, which was the impetus that drove the study to get Mr. Page to look at the funding, it is a community that has been poisoned for 30 years. It is a community where children have been at risk, children who now are starting to show signs of leukemia, having gone to school on the largest diesel contaminated site in North American history. That is where their school grounds are. They have been exposed on a daily basis to low levels of benzenes and methylethylenes, blowing up from the dust on the school grounds. That is a community that had negotiated.
Again, we are talking about a community that sat at the table and negotiated in good faith, that had done all the studies that were asked of them, that did all the reports that were asked of them, and that had signed commitments from regional Indian affairs bureaucrats in Thunder Bay, in Toronto, and all the way up to the minister's office, Robert Nault. He came to the community in July 2000 and committed that there will be a school there. Minister Andy Scott in November of 2005 sat with the senior bureaucrats and said, “Make this happen”. The former minister of Indian Affairs, who is a Conservative cabinet minister now, wrote a letter to the community and said, “I will support this plan at Treasury Board”.
If we were in business with someone who signed these kinds of agreements and then breached them, we would take them to court. We would have a reason and we would win in court. When someone makes those kinds of verbal and written commitments, works with a partner step by step along the way and then at the eleventh hour pulls out of negotiations, walks away and says there never was a deal, that person would be taken to court. Yet, first nations are left high and dry.
It is a question of the need to make a commitment to communities that is not arbitrary, erratic or based on whether ministers decide they are going to spend the money some place else. Maybe they are going to move it back to Treasury Board, maybe they are going to take money from a specific funding envelope for schools and spend it elsewhere. This is what the Parliamentary Budget Officer has shown us very clearly, that the standards at Indian Affairs are erratic, random and not measurable by any standard.
As a former school board trustee, I was always shocked when I tried to get a straight answer out of Indian Affairs about its planning methodologies. It was making them up as it went along. Instead of having bureaucrats who could answer, I was dealing with spin doctors.
The civil service exists to protect the public interest and make sure that money taken from the taxpayers of Canada by the government is spent wisely. The role of the civil servant is not to cover the rear end of ministers based on whatever arbitrary political decision they make on a given day. Yet, this is what we see with Indian Affairs all the time. It raises the question of the federal government needing to take seriously on an across-Canada basis a willingness to negotiate in good faith and to tell first nations communities that it when it makes a plan, the plan will be transparent.
There is kind of a sick joke for people who work in first nation communities where the federal government always says to any first nation, “You have to be accountable. You have to be transparent. We want to see your books. You can't monkey around with your numbers. You have to be able to show how you are spending that money”. Well, all first nation communities do that. If they do not, someone takes control of their finances immediately.
Yet, Indian Affairs officials do not subject themselves to any of the same kinds of clear criteria, such as ring-fencing on line items so that funding envelopes cannot be pilfered and spent elsewhere. These are clear obligations. First nations cannot move that spending around. A school board cannot move the funding envelopes around. A municipality cannot go to the local school board and say, “We are not building schools for you this year because we are going to build some roads with it and give a tax cut to our constituents because it is an election year”. That cannot happen. That would be illegal under the provincial systems of government and, of course, it should be. Yet, at the federal level, that is the way business is done on first nations territory.
We are looking at an agreement that should be a model, an agreement that was made with a number of communities in the James Bay region of Quebec that drew a line in the sand and said, “There will be a standard of how you work with us, how you consult with us, how you develop our territory, and we will be part of that”.
I am very proud to work with all the parties in the House to make sure this bill gets through and that this agreement comes into force. However, the standard of trust and respect has to become part of the federal government mantra in order to develop all our first nation communities because the greatest resource we have in our lands and the territory north of 50 is not forestry, not hydro, not the gold nor the diamonds. It is the young people and the children living on reserves who are often treated as completely neglected backwater. The failure of the government to plan and work with communities to develop the resource of these children, these young people, and these growing communities is a staggering loss for today, for tomorrow, and for what our country could become.
I would hope that the spirit of Bill will help move us forward and all our communities.
Mr. Speaker, I am not going to use my whole time slot because there is cooperation on the bill. I want to use my time as a springboard to talk about some of the items the previous member talked about and to get points on the record about land claims implementation and improving or amending land claims.
There are two types of land claims. There are comprehensive claims that deal with everything. It is a complete treaty that deals with the entire land, resources, and sometimes self-governance agreements that are attached. That is called a comprehensive claim.
Then there is a specific claim. If there is a treaty in place but the treaty has not been followed specifically, there is a claim that an item in the treaty has not been followed and there is a grievance.
Regarding specific claims, which I will deal with first because they are the easiest, the government brought forward a good initiative, which all parties agreed with, to get specific claims into a tribunal and get them out of the old system. Basically two adversaries made a claim that something was done or not done. The judge, in essence, was one of those parties, and obviously that did not make any sense.
The new system for specific claims is very good. It has an independent arbiter get arguments from the two parties and then make a decision. That is a very good improvement, and it's a big step forward. It deals with thousands of those little specific annoyances. Many of the claims are small, but some of them have been backlogged for years and years. All parties agree that this should speed it up and deal with the problem.
With regard to the comprehensive claims, which are in lineups for years and years, a number of them are under negotiation. Once again, we have to make sure there is a fair system to deal with them that does not have them lost in the other business of the department, that there are enough resources that people are not waiting another generation to have their land claim and self-governance dealt with, that it is done in a fair manner and that there is some type of independent arbiter who actually makes the ultimate decision. Hopefully, we can move forward in that respect.
The last area is when there is a treaty, especially a modern treaty, and how we deal with the provisions to implement that. Having a land claim and a self-government agreement is not really the end of the road, as some people might think. It is actually the beginning of a great journey of governments together: the Canadian government; first nations governments; all aboriginal governments, Inuit and Métis. It is a starting point for a new government-to-government relationship. It is a living type of relationship; it is not set in stone. It has to evolve and unfold in good faith and in the spirit those agreements were signed so they can work and progress.
It does not matter how much legalese there is, nothing will work if the will is not there to make it work. To make it work changes have to be made, with modifications and provision of the resources and the good will to make them work.
In regard to some of the modern treaties that have been signed, there are a number of problems. The Auditor General has pointed them out. It is so significant that the first nations with modern treaties, many of them north of 60, have formed a land claims coalition, because their grievances are falling between the cracks. People think an agreement is signed and that is the end of it. Organizations and governments have other things on their plate and they forget that with these modern treaties the implementation process is not smooth, it is not financed, it is not finished. There is a lot of evolving to do and a lot of work to be done on the implementation.
It is pretty bad when so many hundreds of first nations people have to have an organization and conferences to try to bring their points and grievances to us. They need to be dealt with in good faith.
The funding amounts for these claims are not necessarily known on the first day the claim is signed. As an example, the negotiators in the Yukon claims, very wisely, put in a nine-year review period. They will go back after nine years and see that the money being transferred under the program services transfer agreements to each first nations government to run a program that was formerly run by the federal government is enough.
It was very wise that there would be a nine-year review. Unfortunately, just to use this as an example, we are now in the thirteenth year of the nine-year review. It should not take that long. They have done baseline studies, with both governments having officials involved, to study the gross expenditure base and exactly how much it takes to run those programs. It is time to get to the table to get those amounts resolved. As the member has said, the federal government has to provide a negotiator who will negotiate in good faith.
The point made to us is that over these many years, more years than it took to fight the first world war, the negotiators have constantly changed on the federal side and they came without a mandate from cabinet. These things are not going to make for progress.
Hopefully government officials have received that message over the last few weeks from the coalition and from our committee hearings, where we have dealt with this to some extent. I compliment the committee for bringing that topic up. I forget which member actually brought it up, but I commend that member for bringing it to all the members' attention.
Another example is that these particular modern agreements allow a first nations government to take on certain powers. That makes eminent sense. We have some great success stories of first nations delivering their own programs. Unfortunately, they seem to be endlessly roadblocked in taking on the powers that have been legislatively assigned to them.
We have one first nation that has been working on a particular power, and I do not want to point any fingers, for nine years now. The two world wars basically could have been fought in that time. That is to take on a simple power that is legislatively their right. Nothing should take that long. Maybe people have problems with the agreements, but we should have thought of that when we signed the agreements.
The agreements are laws. In fact they are stronger than the ordinary laws of the land, because they are constitutionally protected. The land claims, and in some cases the self-government agreements, are constitutionally protected, although not the Yukon agreements.
We have signed these agreements in good faith with the honour of the Crown. We should be implementing them in good faith. We should sit down, provide negotiators, hopefully with consistency, and with enough mandate and resources to come to an agreement so that first nations can take on these programs. I think we would all be pleasantly surprised, and we would benefit from the success stories that would evolve.
Some of these things in our history have not gone well. These new models obviously cannot be worse, and they could be great success stories for the country. There could actually be resource savings, for a lot of reasons I will not get into. Obviously it would save of a lot of human failure and lack of success stories. We would have new models that might work in those communities, if we simply put some spirit, some effort and some resources into the implementation of these claims.
I have had one member from my community suggest that we set up an independent commission, like the specific claims commission, to deal with some of these implementation problems, as opposed to having these negotiations go on forever. In fact it is funny that there would be a negotiation over something that is a right by law. Why do we not just have an independent decision and get on with it so these agreements can continue?
The bill we are talking about today is a good example of making a correction, but of course it took far too long. I know there are more grievances. A number of times in committee some administrative corrections were requested. I compliment the federal government. It seems to have committed that within a year the other details will be taken care of. We did not want to move forward until we got the assurance from the department that these other administrative improvements that need to be made in this area are going to be made.
The last point I want to make is that sometimes various departments of the federal government do not seem to be aware that when there is a relationship with another government of equal stature in certain areas, it is not just the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. These agreements are signed by Canada and a first nation. All the departments within the first nation have to abide by these agreements, but so do all the departments in the federal government.
If there is a responsibility to consult, as the last member spoke very eloquently about, it is not just the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development; it is the Government of Canada and all the departments. The Government of Canada has 50 or 60 departments and agencies. It is not only the department that can do things that could affect the rights of first nations, Inuit or Métis.
And just as a sideline, I hope the minister will give attention to the Yukon Métis association that met on the weekend and is looking for funding.
It is not just the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development that has to respect the responsibility to consult, because any other department or agency could do something that would impinge on the rights of aboriginal people. They have to be very aware that these modern treaties, which include a government-to-government relationship and a duty to consult, apply to all federal departments and agencies. I hope the officials who are listening from other departments will remember this and get up to speed.
It is a very complicated task, because there are a variety of agreements across the country that are all different. That is a benefit, because individuals and communities are different, but it also makes it complicated for administrators to know the responsibilities of the federal government and to deal in the honour of the Crown with each individual government and community.
It is a big task, but the progress being made in this bill is an example that the job can be done if everyone works together. For that reason I will be supporting this, and I will be looking for progress. Hopefully we will continue, as we do with specific claims in areas that still need to be dealt with, on comprehensive claims and the implementation of modern treaties.