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Perry Bellegarde
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Perry Bellegarde
2019-06-18 11:26
Thanks, Mr. Chair.
[Witness spoke in Cree]
[English]
To all the distinguished members of the committee, I'm very happy to be here acknowledging you all as friends and relatives. I also acknowledge the Algonquin peoples for hosting this on their ancestral lands. For me, from our AFN, I'm happy to be here.
I want to share some perspectives. I'm very honoured to speak here on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations regarding Bill C-100. I'll also say a few words about the process to negotiate, ratify and implement the Canada-United States-Mexico agreement.
Trade in resources and goods in this land, I always say, began with us, the indigenous peoples. The participation now in 2019 in international trade should not be seen merely as part of history. Going forward, how do we get more involved?
As self-determining peoples, we have interests and rights respecting today's international trade agreements. We've always said that for far too long we have not seen the benefits from international trade flow to our businesses or to our communities as first nations people. These facts should form a part of legal and political frameworks when Canada explores new free trade agreements. I've always said, from a first nations perspective in Canada, that whenever Canada goes out to negotiate or discuss anything from softwood lumber to trees, anything from potash in southern Saskatchewan, to uranium in the north or any oil, coal, or whatever natural resource it is, indigenous peoples should be involved and should be participating, because there's respect or reference that we still have unextinguished aboriginal title and rights to the land and territory and resources. It's a simple fact. So we need to be involved.
When Canada, through Minister Chrystia Freeland, welcomed me to be on the NAFTA advisory committee, it was very important, because to date, indigenous peoples haven't been involved. We also had indigenous officials working as part of the working group. In the end, we'll say that this work resulted in the most inclusive international trade agreement for indigenous peoples to date. It's not perfect, but to date it's the best that we have in Canada.
With the ratification of the Canada-United States-Mexico agreement, we would take a step to making international trade more aware of and more equitable in its treatment of indigenous peoples, and especially for indigenous women entrepreneurs. We still have more work to do.
We believe the Canada-United States-Mexico agreement is a step in the right direction with the new general exception for indigenous rights with respect to inherent and aboriginal and treaty rights. As well, with specific preferences to carve out procurement benefits and other opportunities for indigenous businesses and service providers, there's also a promise of future co-operation to enhance indigenous businesses. As well, importantly, the investor-state dispute settlement process, which was a threat to indigenous people's rights, will be phased out for Canada. This is the groundwork for positive change.
While the Canada-United States-Mexico agreement is a new example of the difference it makes to engage with indigenous peoples at an early stage, there must be increased opportunities for first nations participation not only in international trade negotiations but also in trade missions.
Canada should extend an official role to first nations in negotiations of all international agreements on trade and investments that impact inherent treaty aboriginal rights. This would better reflect the nation-to-nation relationship and the whole-of-government commitment by Canada to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, the inclusion of first nations leads to better decisions and better outcomes.
With regard to Bill C-100, what I'm recommending to all the committee members here is that there should be in place a non-derogation clause. It's a safe clause, that nothing in this agreement will affect existing aboriginal treaty rights, which are affirmed in section 35 of Canada's Constitution. I'm making that recommendation as well as that it be interpreted and implemented consistent with those rights in section 35. It's good to have it ratified by Canada, the United States and Mexico on one hand, but each nation-state will come back and do some sort of legislation with the implementation. That's the piece we're looking at making the recommendation on. I'm not advising that we open up the agreement; no, leave it the way it is, but move in tandem with the other two countries to get it ratified. We have to be careful to be not too fast and not too slow, because if one of the three countries doesn't get it ratified, the deal is not going to be implemented.
It's not just that international trade and investment agreements can impact our rights, but also how the agreement is implemented through domestic regulatory and policy matters. That has to be looked at. Once the agreement is ratified, we must work together to realize the economic gains and ensure the provisions related to indigenous peoples in international trade agreements are implemented in a manner that brings greater economic equity to first nations peoples.
The first area where indigenous peoples can see the benefits from this agreement is government procurement. Procurement is always a big thing. Everybody says this should be easy, that it's low-hanging fruit. Canada must move from policies and objectives to mandatory requirements for procuring goods and services from first nations businesses. The Assembly of First Nations is ready to work with Canada to make sure we develop legislation together for social procurement that benefits first nations and other indigenous peoples.
The only other thing I'd like to share here before concluding is there are three or four very important bills we want to see passed before this week is up. Bill C-91 on languages, Bill C-92 on child welfare, and two private members' bills, Bill C-262 and Bill C-337, all need to be passed. If in the event the legislature is called back, those should form the priority. But we're hoping and praying that all MPs, all the leadership here on Parliament Hill, will get behind and pass those pieces of legislation as soon as possible.
That's it, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for the time.
Perry Bellegarde
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Perry Bellegarde
2019-06-18 12:00
That's a good question. One way it's going to benefit is through the procurement piece, by having not just objectives, but specific targets with specific numbers in terms of procurement. That's a big thing. That's one way, and that's specifically referenced within the CUSMA as well. There is talk about future economic opportunities down the road. There's still a lot of work to do once this is ratified and to make sure there is full involvement and inclusion. There are 634 first nations across Canada, all at different levels. Some are already participating in the international economy. It's just to build upon the examples like that.
We think that Canada is a country rich in resources, and it is. We want to build the economy and be part of the economy. There's only one economy. It's a national economy but it's a global economy. Where do the indigenous people fit into that in terms of demand and supply and supply and demand? We have to fit into that chain somewhere. I think with the full involvement, the inclusion, there are opportunities that we can build upon. I see it as a start. We have to keep making sure the opportunities are built upon. There are some things there, especially regarding procurement.
View Colin Carrie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Colin Carrie Profile
2019-06-18 12:24
Chief Bellegarde, you mentioned something about government procurement, which you think is a number one thing we should be looking at, and I agree. I think this is really important.
Canada lost its buy American exemption. In January, Mr. Trump made an executive order in that regard. With government procurement, it would be really important that Canada maintain access to the American market, which is 10 times larger than our market.
How would you see this government procurement work with first nations, especially with the mandatory part of it that you brought up?
Perry Bellegarde
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Perry Bellegarde
2019-06-18 12:25
The short answer is to work with the appropriate minister and appropriate government department in terms of a policy change inside, towards a policy that reflects that set-aside.
That's it.
View Kyle Peterson Profile
Lib. (ON)
Chief Bellegarde, again, thank you for being here.
I'm also on the government operations committee, and we did a study on the procurement system. We specifically looked at the capacity, capability and opportunities for indigenous businesses to partake in the RFP and procurement process in Canada. The report hasn't been tabled yet, although it might have been tabled this week. Suffice it to say, there's much more work that needs to be done on the government side to make sure we can capitalize on that opportunity.
Do you see this trade deal as a way of tapping into those indigenous businesses that were able to tap into that capacity? We met with a slew of them, very talented people, who just want to participate in the process. Is this a way of helping push that along?
Perry Bellegarde
View Perry Bellegarde Profile
Perry Bellegarde
2019-06-18 12:44
Yes, it is. The short answer is yes. Build upon that, because when you start talking about.... Where's the inventory of businesses that can compete and bid on these contracts? Where's the capacity? Do they have the capacity to make sure they deliver a good-quality product and/or service in whatever industry or sector you're talking about? Procurement is key, but you also need an inventory of where those businesses are, so they know where to look. It's an opportunity to build upon that.
We have some chiefs who supply tobacco to Mexico, to the jails down there. We have some chiefs who are looking at developing potash mines to supply potash to India. We're starting. We just have to keep building. It's a world economy, so we have to get our foot in that door and keep progressing. That's how I see it. This is a start, no question. We just have to keep building.
View Glen Motz Profile
CPC (AB)
All right. Thank you.
I saw you sitting in the gallery when I asked the minister this question. You have five members as a commission. Do you have investigative resources that you have access to that provide you with the ability to reinvestigate if a complaint is found to be insufficient? Does that exist for both the RCMP side of your commission and the CBSA side of your commission? Who is the investigative body that you contract or go to for that?
Michelaine Lahaie
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Michelaine Lahaie
2019-06-17 16:53
The answer to your question is yes. We do have the ability to investigate. I have a team of seven investigators who currently work for me right now. I suspect that with the increase in funding, as well as the new mandate, we will be increasing the number of investigators we have. In some cases, if we require and need very specialized expertise, then we contract out for that specialized expertise. For example—
Michelaine Lahaie
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Michelaine Lahaie
2019-06-17 16:54
No. It's not other police services. We go to civilian contracts and look at using those types of services.
Michelaine Lahaie
View Michelaine Lahaie Profile
Michelaine Lahaie
2019-06-17 16:54
They're a mix. I have some who are from other police services. I have some who have come from family and social services, so it really is—
Michelaine Lahaie
View Michelaine Lahaie Profile
Michelaine Lahaie
2019-06-17 16:54
No. They're public servants who work directly for me.
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