Please find my remarks during the debate below and click here for the full debate.
Mr. Speaker, the debate tonight is about a very serious matter. In January, the Prime Minister stated:
|Our government has no grand scheme to repeal or to unilaterally rewrite the Indian Act: After 136 years, that tree has deep roots; blowing up the stump would just leave a big hole. However, there are ways, creative ways, collaborative ways, ways that involve consultation between our government, the provinces and First Nations leadership and communities, ways that provide options within the act, or outside of it, for practical, incremental and real change.|
At that same meeting the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, said this with respect to the Indian Act:
|Like a rock that sits in the middle of the road,
a boulder that blocks the path of collaboration, remainsthe Indian Act, along with the age-old structures and policies that administer it and steadfastly resist change.
I am sorry that we have to raise this here tonight because it means that the government has not taken this solemn promise of the Prime Minister seriously. He said in January that the government would not repeal or unilaterally rewrite the Indian Act and indicated that any future changes would be developed in consultation with the government, the provinces and first nations communities. I am afraid that a backbencher’s private member’s bill is not an appropriate consultation for this very serious relationship with first nations in this country.
This kind of change must be undertaken by the Prime Minister in a government-to-government way. Now we have a member of Parliament moving legislation to unilaterally change the Indian Act with no prior consultation.
All private member’s bills should include consultation before they are tabled, and when they are drafted and afterwards. None of this happened, which is extremely egregious when dealing with an issue concerning first nations.
Mr. Speaker, if the member had consulted, he would have heard very loudly that first nations were not finding this appropriate. They want a formal discussion with the Prime Minister and the cabinet as to how to change the Indian Act. Even for the Kelowna accord, the Prime Minister and the cabinet met with first nations leadership and Inuit and Métis for 18 months before that accord was tabled.
First nations groups have clearly stated that the current bill is paternalistic and was not the subject of consultations.
If he had consulted, he would have been persuaded, I believe, to put his energies into something else that would have improved the quality of life of Canadians, especially first nations, if that was his choosing. Tinkering with the bill is not appropriate.
Let me be clear. The Indian Act is the embodiment of failed colonial and paternalistic policies that have denied first nations their rights and a fair share in resources, fostered mistrust and created systemic barriers to the self-determination and success of first nations.
However, the elimination of these barriers requires the government to initiate a formal process of direct engagement with first nations, on a nation-to-nation basis, which focuses on replacing the Indian Act with new agreements. These agreements must be based on the constitutional treaty and inherent rights of all first nations, the historical and fiduciary responsibility of the Crown to first nations.
The standards established in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples include the principle of free, prior and informed consent, respect, recognition, reconciliation and support for first nations, a partnership and mutual accountability for the Crown and first nations and the stability and safety of first nations.
The member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River spoke at a Federation of Saskatchewan Nations Assembly this summer, but did not even allow questions or seek input from the assembled leaders. This would have been an ideal time for him to consult and hopefully listen to what the people thought.
If the member had done even a basic consultation, he would understand that the issues he is dealing with in this bill are not what first nations leadership is calling for across the country.
These leaders are demanding the adoption of a process that would go beyond the Indian Act, a process rooted in nation-to-nation relationships and based on consultations and collaboration that respect historic and legal rights, a process that would require the federal government to respect its historic and fiduciary responsibilities towards the first nations.
The member has seriously missed the mark with this private member’s bill, and I was extraordinarily surprised, like my colleague from the New Democratic party, today in question period to hear that the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development agreed. For him to say that the Conservatives will support the bill in principle and hope to see it pass into law is exactly the opposite of what the Prime Minister promised in January to the assembled leadership of the first nations.
I encourage the member to read carefully the motion put forward by the leader of our party, the member for Toronto Centre, whose motion will be debated on Monday. It puts in place a proper formal process to work with first nations to actually make this egregious wrong right. It says:
|That, in the opinion of the House, the Indian Act is the embodiment of failed colonial and paternalistic policies which have denied First Nations their rights, fair share in resources; fostered mistrust and created systemic barriers to the self-determination and success of First Nations, and that elimination of these barriers requires the government to initiate a formal process of direct engagement with First Nations within three months of passage of this motion, on a nation-to-nation basis, which focuses on replacing the Indian Act with new agreements based on: (a) the constitutional, treaty, and inherent rights of all First Nations; (b) the historical and fiduciary responsibilities of the Crown to First Nations; (c) the standards established in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the principle of free, prior, and informed consent; (d) respect, recognition, reconciliation and support for First Nations; (e) partnership and mutual accountability between the Crown and First Nations; and (f) stability and safety of First Nations; and that this process be completed within two years before reporting with a series of concrete deliverables for the government to act upon.|
This has to be a step toward self-government. This is a process that has to be taken at the highest level of our government and its cabinet with the leaders of first nations and must be developed bottom up. This is about self-government. It is about allowing first nations to develop the process and then develop the concrete deliverables to which they will ask the Government of Canada to agree.
I am pleased the member presenting the bill has decided to be quiet now. The way the Conservatives heckled the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan was completely disrespectful. This is a very serious issue. We on this side of the House take it very seriously. I hope the member will be here for the debate on Monday night as a formal process will be described. I hope they will support the member for Toronto Centre‘s motion.