Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Peace River—Westlock.
I am really pleased to be working and building relationships with the people of the Cote, Keeseekoose, The Key, Fishing Lake and Yellow Quill First Nations and the Métis Nation Saskatchewan in the riding of Yorkton—Melville on Treaty No. 4 and Treaty No. 5 lands.
I am also very pleased to speak today on Bill C-15, an act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
It goes without saying that the consideration of this legislation today is a significant moment for Canada, not only because members on all sides of the House, and therefore all Canadians, want to achieve meaningful reconciliation with Canada’s indigenous people but because the Liberal government has made a critical misstep toward this goal through the introduction of the bill in its current form. It is my fear that the impact of the bill will result in the opposite of its desired effect.
The bill aims to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP. Subclause 4(a), for instance, states that “The purpose of this Act is to (a) affirm the Declaration as a universal international human rights instrument with application in Canadian law”. Further, clause 5 charges the Government of Canada with working “in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples, take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the Declaration.”
The House will remember calls to action 43 and 44 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, urging the federal government to “to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation” and “to develop a national action plan, strategies, and other concrete measures to achieve the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. ”It was in fact the previous Conservative government that adopted UNDRIP in 2010 as an aspirational document.
Then and now, the Conservatives support the goals and aspirations of this declaration. We support treaty rights and the process of reconciliation with the indigenous people of Canada. However, we remain concerned about the Liberal government’s unwillingness to put forward legislation that clearly outlines the effect and interpretation of key terms within the declaration, such as “free, prior and informed consent”. When it comes to understanding what exactly this term means in a practical sense, the lack of consensus between the federal and provincial governments, among members of the legal community and within indigenous communities themselves is worthy of concern.
The previous Conservative government, at the time of its inception, opposed UNDRIP, because free, prior and informed consent did not align with Canadian constitutional law. That is why, a few years later, the same government adopted UNDRIP as an aspirational document, not binding law. This was a move in line with three of our Five Eyes partners: the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. It was a decision made with good reason. The wide-ranging provisions within UNDRIP, like FPIC, were found to be inconsistent with Canadian constitutional law.
Over a decade later, the Liberal government is forging ahead with infusing UNDRIP into the law of the land. However, it has failed to do its due diligence in presenting a bill that can be clearly understood by government and stakeholders. There is a lack of consultation on what purports to be a transformative piece of legislation that will have untold ramifications on our country, indigenous communities and, indeed, all Canadians.
NTC president Judith Sayers says that the consultative process for this bill lacked mutual agreement and was rushed. AFN chiefs have expressed their concern that no extensive consultations were held. The government is good at partial consultations, but the word “extensive” is mentioned here.
Late last year, six provincial premiers wrote to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations to object to the six-week window provided for input on the draft bill. They stressed the need for “appropriate engagement with provinces, territories, and Indigenous partners on the draft bill” that could “fundamentally change Confederation.” I do not believe that has taken place and any that has is not clearly outlined to the House. The premiers pleaded for time for Canada to fully and meaningfully consider and address the legitimate, significant concerns that we have already raised about the draft bill in its current form.
It is unacceptable for the government to claim that the time for consultation has been satisfied. I have heard that a great deal today. Concerns expressed at the time of the previous UNDRIP bill, Bill C-262, still exist now. How can the government claim credit for a new era of trust and reconciliation with indigenous communities with such a heavy-handed and sloppy approach to this legislation?
As I mentioned earlier, the effect of free, prior and informed consent has been a long-standing concern that has not retreated from the national discourse. It generates more questions than it provides answers.
Take, for instance, the direct input of indigenous communities. The National Coalition of Chiefs and the Indigenous Resource Network have expressed its concern about ramifications, such as who would have the authority to grant it and the impact it would have on future resource projects. If grant expectations under this model are not met, how will it undermine trust between the Crown and indigenous people for generations to come? Will it deter investment, good jobs and secure incomes from reaching our shores? Indeed, the interpretation of this may lead to consequences beyond Canada's resource development.
Professor Dwight Newman of the University of Saskatchewan's Faculty of Law, speaking before the Senate aboriginal affairs committee on a previous iteration of the bill stated, “the Court’s interpretation of FPIC is nonetheless subject to uncertainties that have enormous implications for Canada”. Professor Newman's input has merit.
Again, let us focus on how indigenous communities may be impacted. Clearly, the pursuit of reconciliation and tangible progress for indigenous communities could be stagnated by opaque language like FPIC. Even considering the current constitutional model, one that outlines a duty to consult and accommodate, tangible results can be hard to come by depending on the degree of intrusion proposed. With the implementation of this model, many serious questions are raised, including who might provide their consent in any given circumstance or who speaks for any community.
Members will recall a sensitive period for our country not too long ago when the decisions of 20 band councils concerning the Coastal GasLink pipeline came into direct conflict with opposition from Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. Opposing groups within the Wet'suwet'en could not come to an agreement about who spoke on their behalf. Speaking before a parliamentary committee, Theresa Tait-Day, a founder of the Wet'suwet'en Matrilineal Coalition, said that the project had been hijacked, despite 80% of the band wanting the project to proceed.
It has been argued that the passage of Bill 41 in British Columbia, in many ways a mirror of the legislation before us, led directly to the disconnect between the elected band council, hereditary chiefs and government. Many indigenous stakeholders interpreted Bill 41 as the vehicle through which UNDRIP was adopted and therefore established a right to veto construction on the line. Indigenous communities deserve better than the ambiguity that B.C.'s Bill 41 and Bill C-15 provide.
Other questions remain, such as, how will this apply in situations where indigenous rights include title or the right to occupy lands and use resources? In situations involving unresolved or overlapping land claim disputes, whose consent is required? What form will this consent take in Canadian law? There is a real concern that the government is taking steps to enshrine UNDRIP into Canadian law without a clear picture of how concepts like FPIC will be interpreted in that law.
As justice minister in 2016, the member for Vancouver Granville said, “simplistic approaches, such as adopting the UNDRIP as being Canadian law are unworkable.” She went on to say, “it's important to appreciate why Canada cannot simply incorporate the declaration "word for word" into law.”
The Conservatives have been clear and consistent. We believe that UNDRIP is an aspirational document whose goals we support. However, to adopt it wholesale without consideration for lasting consequences is irresponsible. We need a made-in-Canada approach to achieve the type of reconciliation UNDRIP outlines. Indigenous communities do not need a further barrier to achieving the best for their communities.
Dale Swampy, president of the National Coalition of Chiefs, has spent his professional life in first nations administration as well as the oil and gas industry. In a special note to the Financial Post he wrote that he “know[s] first-hand what happens when federal bureaucracy gets in the way of responsible resource development.” It is his belief that symbolic gestures of reconciliation should not come at the expense of food on the table for indigenous people.
Reconciliation with Canada's indigenous people means recognizing and affirming their dreams and aspirations to not just be stakeholders but, as I have been told, shareholders. In this case, it is the private sector that has led the way in spending on indigenous businesses.
One example of nine is Cameco, the uranium company that procured $3.8 billion since 2004 from local suppliers in the riding of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan, whose member of Parliament is so passionately committed to seeing reconciliation truly succeed. His words I now repeat, “Advocating for jobs, owned-source revenue streams, equity ownership and financial independence is in fact the pathway to self-determination and the solution to many of the social challenges.”
The Liberals have been failing to keep their promises, such as ending long-term boil water advisories, and failing to stand up for the future of the natural resource projects that benefit indigenous communities and that they want to be part of. As it stands, this bill has the potential to sow further seeds of division across our country. If it is the government's intention to enshrine an international—