Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to begin third reading debate on Bill C-29, an act that would provide the establishment of a national council for reconciliation.
First, I would like to thank my colleagues from all parties in the House who supported this bill and expressed their comments and concerns about the bill at second reading. We heard their input.
Many of these comments were taken up in committee and amendments were adopted. In this regard, I would also like to thank all the members of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs for their thorough consideration of Bill C-29. In the past month and a half, during the seven meetings on this bill, the committee heard from 32 witnesses.
I would like to acknowledge all the witnesses who took the time to present their perspectives and answer the committee's questions. Every piece of testimony was critical. It allowed us to make important amendments to strengthen the bill before us today.
Following the advice of the transitional committee, on June 22, 2022, we introduced Bill C-29, which seeks to establish a national council for reconciliation.
The Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs' study was extensive. It is worth noting once again that 32 witnesses provided testimony to the committee, including representatives of national, provincial and territorial indigenous organizations, councils and governments, a former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, federal officials from the departments of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Justice Canada and four of the national council for reconciliation transitional committee members.
Through their testimonies, many witnesses proposed concrete suggestions on how we can strengthen this legislation.
Many of these amendments are now included in the version of the bill that is before Parliament today. I can say that these amendments are consistent with the general legal and policy objectives of Bill C-29, that they do not raise legal risks and that they do not have immediate financial implications.
I will explain some of the major changes we have made together.
First, we made several changes to ensure that the board promotes diversity and inclusion. One thing that was stressed to us on many occasions, as part of our engagement with indigenous peoples and organizations, and again when the committee reviewed the bill, was the importance of having a board that is representative of the realities of indigenous peoples in Canada.
The original bill provided that the board of directors should consist of 9 to 13 persons, two-thirds of whom would be indigenous. It also provided for the inclusion of individuals from the following groups: first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, as well as other peoples in Canada; Indigenous organizations, including a representative from the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council; youth, women, men and gender-diverse persons; and people from various regions of Canada, including urban, rural and remote regions.
Throughout the committee process, we worked with partners and committee members to increase the diversity of the board. We had to ensure the participation of additional voices, including those from the territories, elders and, very importantly, survivors of residential schools and other discriminatory policies, and their descendants.
There was also an amendment to ensure the board must ensure and equitably reflect gender diversity. Gender balance is vital for respecting the rights of women and making progress on issues faced by women and gender diverse peoples. Adding the Native Women's Association of Canada to the list of national indigenous organizations ensures women's voices will be centred and attention will be given to the MMIWG calls to justice.
While the bill already guarantees regional representation, more was needed to ensure the inclusion of a northern perspective based on the fact that indigenous peoples represent a higher percentage of territorial populations. The amended bill provides that at least two of the board's members must be from the north. This is a good development.
In all indigenous cultures, communities and organizations, elders are central figures. As such, an amendment has been made to ensure elders are included in the composition of the council.
Finally, reconciliation cannot happen without including the voices of survivors of residential schools and other discriminatory policies and their families. This ethos was central to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's work and needed to be reflected in the composition of this council, which is why we have made an amendment to guarantee their participation.
When I was in Winnipeg earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak with survivors, elders and many indigenous peoples at the groundbreaking of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Those I listened to reminded me of the importance of education for everyone in Canada about the truth of the residential school system. The council and Canada will benefit from hearing from a diversity of experiences, perspectives and voices. I truly think we have accomplished that with this bill, and I thank the House.
These amendments were put forward on the advice of opposition party members, committee members, and indigenous peoples themselves. Taken together, these amendments will ensure that the council's composition reflects regional, gender and cultural diversity.
We added key provisions about respecting, protecting and promoting indigenous languages. Our goal is to support the participation of all indigenous peoples in the council's work and the revitalization of indigenous languages.
This measure is consistent with the government's commitment to fully implement the Indigenous Languages Act in order to maintain, promote and revitalize indigenous languages in Canada. It contributes to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Protecting and promoting the rights of indigenous people, including indigenous language rights, is part of reconciliation. It is therefore a natural extension of the council's mandate.
As I mentioned earlier, the national council for reconciliation would provide a structure for advancing reconciliation in Canada. Inclusion of measurable outcomes will support the council by demonstrating progress. To ensure the council is as effective as possible at advancing reconciliation, we have clarified its core duties and functions, allowing the council to determine measurable outcomes and monitor and report on progress toward those outcomes.
Placing this responsibility on the council reinforces its autonomy and authority to choose the best indicators for measuring progress on reconciliation. Maintaining the autonomy of the council is a top priority, and the government supports the independence of the council as a foundational principle.
To uphold the autonomy and authority of the council, we have modified the selection process for the first board of directors. To remove some of my own authority, the board of directors will be jointly selected by the members of the transitional committee and myself in my role as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
This change enhances the independence of the council by strengthening the role of the indigenous-led transitional committee. It also helps ensure the selection process to determine the council's first board of directors is open and fair.
As we strengthen the roles and responsibilities of the council, we must also ensure it has access to the information it needs to carry out its work. Even with the amendments we have proposed, I recognize this bill is not perfect. I would like to highlight something that was raised during the committee's study of this bill: More engagement with indigenous communities and Canadians will be done after the council is established as they build their action plan and goals for the council.
Throughout the development of this bill, our government has ensured that members of indigenous communities and political leaders have the opportunity to express their views on the creation of the council. However, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made it clear in its final report that reconciliation does not just involve indigenous peoples, but all Canadians.
The responsibility for educating people like me often falls on indigenous people, but that should not be the case. There is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of ignorance to be fought. Reconciliation is something that all Canadians, including all levels of government and all areas of the country, must be involved in. The work must be done not just by indigenous people or the federal government, but by all of us.
During the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs' study of the bill, Michael DeGagné, a member of the National Council of Reconciliation Transitional Committee, stated that “reconciliation is not a political process. Certainly it involves politics, but it is not solely a political process. It's a way to engage both indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians in a dialogue around going forward in a good way”.
That is what the council aims to achieve. It will open up lines of communication and connect various sectors of society. It will offer criticisms and make recommendations on ways to improve things. It will hold our government and future governments to account and ensure that the dialogue on reconciliation continues.
It has now been four years after the interim council's final report and eight years since the TRC released its final report and the 94 corresponding calls to action. Creating a national council for reconciliation is long overdue, but we are hoping it will happen now with this legislation.