Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise in the House this evening to speak in support of one of the most important pieces of legislation that has ever come to the House. This is the second time the NDP has brought this bill forward, and I am incredibly proud to support the work of my friend and colleague, the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.
If the Government of Canada were to implement the principles set forth in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, we would see a sea change in the relationship between Canada and the first peoples of this land. We would be living in a new era of respect and dignity for indigenous and non-indigenous peoples alike, as defined by the nation to nation relationship that first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples deserve.
It is shameful and telling that Canada was one of the last state parties to become a signatory to the UNDRIP. It took three years of constant pressure to get Canada to sign. Those who were there have described the tactics that our government used to try and neuter some of the articles in the declaration. In particular, the government attempted to erase article 11, section 2, under which indigenous peoples have the right to free, prior and informed consent in matters which effect their land, well-being and culture. I will return to this point a bit later in my speech because it is so illustrative of exactly why the Conservative government's relationship with indigenous peoples in Canada is so damaged.
The UN declaration is a document of power. In the hands of indigenous peoples, it is a tool and an instrument. Canada's first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are using it to combat the legacy of colonial violence they have inherited.
Across the country, court rulings have reflected the binding nature of Canada's signature on the declaration. They are amassing jurisprudence based upon the rights it provides, and the government has a duty with respect to the document. Beyond jurisprudence, we see indigenous peoples using the UNDRIP to teach their children and broaden their usage of a rights-based framework under which they are dependent upon the goodwill and good faith of Canada, but are the rights holders who are empowered to claim what is owed to them.
I would like to take this time to share the words of some key leaders across Canada who have supported Bill C-641.
This is what Grand Chief Derek Nepinak writes on behalf of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs:
“By way of a standing mandate to support UNDRIP, I offer this letter in support of your initiative to have this bill pass and become enshrined in Canadian legislative processes as an important hedge against the derogation or abrogation of Indigenous rights”.
Also from my home province, our NDP minister of aboriginal and northern affairs, Eric Robinson, has written a letter in support of my colleague's bill, which reads in part:
“This will be a major accomplishment in providing clarity and direction for the Federal government and the private sector in recognizing Indigenous rights in this country. As has already been stated by others, Bill C-641 reaffirms Indigenous rights that were taken away by forced assimilation policies like residential schools and the Indian Act. The UN Declaration recognized that Indigenous peoples have the “collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples.” It is time to recognize these rights in Canadian Law”.
Minister Robinson's words are well taken and reflect the fact that provincial governments need not take an adversarial stance against indigenous rights.
Far too often, the Conservative government refers to aboriginal rights as something Canadians cannot afford. The Conservative minister of aboriginal affairs at the time that the UNDRIP was ratified was quoted as saying that the declaration of rights was “unworkable in a Western democracy under a constitutional government...because (native rights) don’t trump all other rights in the country”.
It is shameful. It is as if the inherent rights of some people would come at the cost of the rights of others, as if human rights are not something that can and must be enjoyed by every human being on this planet. Not only is this logic utterly offensive and inherently racist, but it is absolutely incorrect. We can afford Indigenous rights. What we cannot afford is not to enshrine these rights in our country.
Just this afternoon, I met with a delegation of chiefs from the Blueberry River and Doig River First Nations. They travelled from northeast British Columbia to speak to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and members of our opposition. When we met with them, they described a situation we hear more and more often. Their traditional lands are being usurped and destroyed as a result of industrial activity, and for decades, this has happened without their consent.
Neither the federal nor the provincial government has taken their consent into consideration as they rubberstamp successive projects on their lands. They have taken their hunting grounds, pumped chemicals into their waters, and poisoned the animals. Their resource-rich lands, they told me, are now beyond repair. As well, the federal government has stalled in negotiating and resolving their land claims. They have been at the table for over a decade, and the government has shown such disrespect as to completely step away from the negotiations for periods at a time.
These two nations have been left with no choice but to file against their provincial government in court. This ham-fisted way of dealing with first nations will stall economic development and business and will not help this development be sustainable and mutually beneficial.
These two nations do not want resource development completely off their lands, but they do want their government to recognize their inherent right to free, prior, and informed consent, as set out by the UNDRIP.
The fact is, we see the current government's opposition to indigenous rights, both in terms of the UN declaration and in terms of the bill before us today, all too often. Just this week, we saw the government's desire to push forward with Bill S-6, a bill that would attack the kind of legislative framework put in place by first nations in the Yukon and by Yukoners themselves to protect their environment.
The government has attempted to ram through Bill S-6. Industry does not want it rammed through. Industry has made it clear that it wants to respect indigenous rights, because it knows that it is the safest way to do business in Canada.
If the Conservative government were genuinely concerned about sound fiscal management, it would see the UNDRIP as an opportunity to foster better business relations with first nations. The Conservatives would understand that they cannot get away with overriding aboriginal title anymore. The Tsilhqot’in decision this summer proved that very thing.
Today I am proud to say that an NDP government would immediately begin working towards a nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples. We would adopt the UNDRIP and we would enshrine its principles by ensuring that, at the cabinet level, every piece of legislation is reviewed through an indigenous lens and is in line with treaty rights, aboriginal rights, inherent rights, and of course, the UN declaration.
I would like to end by quoting the late hon. Jack Layton, the former leader of the NDP and leader of the official opposition.
In a letter to the UN back in 2006, when they were on the brink of ratifying the declaration, Jack wrote:
I write today to express my Party's support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The New Democratic Party is the social democratic party in Canada's parliament and it is our belief in social justice and equality that leads us to support this declaration.
There are many sound economic, social, and legal reasons to support this bill, but as Jack Layton said, at the heart of the issue is the principle of equality and social justice for all. These are the principles of human rights, and we stand for them.
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-641 would require that in consultation and co-operation with indigenous peoples in Canada, the government take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws in Canada would be consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The declaration is an expression of the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples, and sets out principles of partnership and mutual respect that should guide the relationships between states and indigenous peoples.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the tireless efforts of indigenous leaders from Canada, such as Chief Wilton Littlechild, Grand Chief Edward John and so many others, without whom this groundbreaking document would never have been realized.
In fact, the principles laid out in the declaration are similar to Canada's existing legal duties to meaningfully consult and, where necessary, accommodate aboriginal communities before adopting or implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect their inherent and/or treaty rights. In fact, it codifies what indigenous peoples across the country know is necessary, expressed as “Nothing about us without us”.
We need to realize that there is still a lot of work to be done in order to meet the urgent needs of aboriginal peoples in Canada and ensure that aboriginal and treaty rights take on their full meaning and become part of an enforceable framework.
Unfortunately, since coming to power, the Conservative government has pursued a paternalistic and non-consultative approach with indigenous peoples in Canada, going so far as classifying them as adversaries in terms of resource development.
The education gap is widening in terms of both funding and outcomes, housing shortages are becoming more acute, water and waste water systems are in crisis, and tragic gaps in first nations health outcomes are continuing unabated.
The clear frustration of aboriginal peoples is understandable, given the litany of broken promises, the complete lack of progress on issues of vital importance to them, and the refusal of the government to fulfill its legal obligation to consult on matters that may impact their inherent and/or treaty rights.
There is no doubt that the federal government is responsible for healing relations with the first nations, Inuit and Métis people of Canada, and those relations must be based on the principles set out in the the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP.
The Liberal Party of Canada has long expressed support for these principles, and as the parliamentary secretary noted, passed support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at our Liberal policy convention in 2014. We continue also to urge the government to move forward with its implementation. We think implementation requires federal leadership across all government departments and across all jurisdictions. All levels of government must understand the principles in this declaration that Canada signed on to.
The Liberal caucus will therefore be supporting the bill. The declaration establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being, and rights of the world's indigenous peoples. It addresses both individual and collective rights, cultural rights, identity, and the right to education, health, employment, language, and others.
The declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007, with an overwhelming majority, when 143 states voted in favour and only four voted against, with 11 abstaining. Unfortunately, Canada was one of the four countries that initially rejected the declaration.
As is the case with many other international issues, the Conservatives' obstructionist approach in this case is further tarnishing Canada's reputation on the world stage.
Subsequent to that UN vote, all four states that initially rejected the declaration have endorsed it. Australia endorsed the declaration in 2009, the U.S. indicated its endorsement in 2010, and New Zealand joined with its endorsement in that same year.
In 2010, Canada also seemingly joined the international consensus by issuing a statement of support for its principles. Unfortunately, the Conservative government has done nothing since that statement to implement the principles in the declaration. As we heard from the parliamentary secretary, it does not even believe most of what it signed and has consistently used the excuse that it is merely aspirational in nature.
Certainly, in an order paper question that I tabled in this House, the response from the government was very clear. When asked what it was doing to implement the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, the answer was pretty well nothing. Nothing, because it is aspirational. Nothing across government departments. Nothing in terms of dealing with the provinces, territories and municipalities, as all levels of government must understand and honour this international declaration.
While it is true that UN declarations are generally not legally binding, they do represent the evolution of international legal norms and reflect the commitment of states to make progress toward specific shared goals while abiding by certain principles.
Further, as noted by the Native Law Centre at the University of Saskatchewan:
The Declaration did not create new rights for Indigenous peoples—but expanded upon existing human rights law and clarifies how those general human rights protections apply to Indigenous peoples.
Even if the government sees this document as merely aspirational, it is time to move forward with tangible actions to support achieving those aspirations. I am particularly disappointed to hear from the parliamentary secretary that the government will not be supporting this private member's bill.
Just last year the current government rejected the UN Indigenous Peoples World Conference outcome document because of its call to implement the declaration. The 2014 UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples brought together over 1,000 indigenous and non-indigenous delegates to discuss the realization of indigenous rights. The outcome document calls on member states to take:
...appropriate measures at the national level, including legislative, policy and administrative measures, to achieve the ends of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The outcome document also affirms provisions in the UN declaration that decisions potentially affecting the rights of indigenous peoples should be undertaken only with their free, prior and informed consent. This seems to be the issue the government takes issue with. It is so disappointing that it did not understand that the declaration really insists on people moving forward on that. If it is aspirational, it means it still has to move forward and make some action that demonstrates an understanding of what has been signed.
The Conservative government refused to even send a minister to the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and then rejected the outcome document. This government seems to take particular issue with the principle that decisions potentially affecting the rights of indigenous peoples should only be undertaken with their free, prior and informed consent.
As the parliamentary secretary said, article 19 states that countries “shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned...to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them”.
Article 32(2) states that countries “shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned...to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development...”.
The practical implications of the concept of free, prior and informed consent are not dissimilar to the legal duties already imposed on governments by treaties and now enshrined in our Constitution.
My message to Canadians is that true reconciliation can only be achieved if we understand the history, the culture and the rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada. It is a process that we called “Idle? Know more!” It is something that colleagues here need to be part of, in terms of how we can go forward with as my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou has said, in order to achieve true reconciliation.
I encourage all of us here in this House to take special time with the users guide and parliamentary handbook that has been developed on DRIP, and I hope we will move forward together in spite of the present government.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my dear friend from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. During the course of his presentation tonight I could not help but think of our departed friend, Jack Layton, and the belief that Jack had in our country and its ability to become so much more, particularly with respect to the situation faced by so many first nations, Métis and Inuit people.
At the end of his speech the member spoke of an offer, of a possibility of true reconciliation for the country. When I observe, because of where I live in the northwest of British Columbia, first nations people fight for their rights and title, not only are they fighting for the rights and title of their particular people and nation, but they fight on behalf of all of us for a sense of decency and fairness in the way we view our history, we reconcile our present and move forward into the future.
I must thank my friend for his work on this over so many years and the place he is taking today in our House of Commons. I take much personal satisfaction in being associated with him and the work that he does. If Canada were to take this offer, what could we do with it? What could we offer, not only first nations people but each other, in a much more prosperous and unified country?
When the hon. member for Winnipeg North said that the debate was ending, I did not know whether that meant the House was ready for the question. However, I see there are other members who are interested in carrying on.
Before we resume debate, I will let the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou know that there are about 12 minutes remaining in the time for government orders this afternoon, and so he will not have his full 20 minutes. Of course, if he chooses, the remaining time will be available to him when the House resumes debate after the end of government orders today.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.
I know the hon. Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development will remember not to address his comments directly to his colleagues but to the Chair.
The hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy today to stand in the House to speak to the motion by my hon. colleague from Manicouagan. The people of his riding can be proud of his passionate representation on their behalf. Along with our colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, the member is an outstanding champion for his own Inuit and first nations communities.
I am on my second term as MP for Nickel Belt, but it was in this Parliament, with the election in 2011 under our former leader, Jack Layton, that our party saw the election of so many new young and gifted members from Quebec. This motion today is his commitment to put people and their communities and their rights first and foremost when it comes to natural resources projects.
I come from Nickel Belt and Greater Sudbury, home of the largest nickel basin in the world. I worked for 34 years for Inco, a mining company. I have seen the good and the bad that mining can do in a region. I absolutely support public consultation and real efforts to get public support for these projects. I will address that shortly.
First, as chair of the 20-MP NDP mining caucus, I will say a few words about our strong support for mining when it is done right. My party and I recognize the importance of mining in our communities. In 2013, over 380,000 jobs were in mineral extraction, smelting, fabrication and manufacturing in our country. Mining is an economic and investment driver for Canada, paying $71 billion in taxes and royalties to Canadian governments in the past decade. I am told the mining sector is the largest employer of aboriginal people.
My region of Greater Sudbury is now being called “Canada's mining superstore”, given all of the technology, research and innovation in the Greater Sudbury region. The Mining Association of Canada estimates that upwards of $160 billion in mining projects are presently proposed in Canada, including multi-billion dollar investments in Nunavut; Northwest Territories; B.C.; Alberta, Saskatchewan; Manitoba; Ontario, especially with the Ring of Fire; Quebec; and Newfoundland and Labrador. That underlines the importance of the motion before the House today.
The member speaks often of social licence for those natural resources projects. In plain language, we want people and their communities to have current and future generation concerns addressed before they say yes to these projects. They want to see that the mining companies are taking seriously their responsibilities and understanding all of the implications of mining or other exploration. These holes in the ground, the blasting and the excavation also have consequences for drinking water, our health, our noise, our pollution and much more that touches on the daily lives of citizens. When companies move into a community with their well-paying jobs, they are welcome.
There can be other social and health consequences that are not so good. More and more, I hear mining companies talking about corporate social responsibility, making progress in this regard. That is a good thing. My leader met with the Mining Association of Canada representatives this week. We urged the companies to continue to work on social licence and to continue to work on this corporate social responsibility. We know from news stories about bad behaviour abroad from some Canadian companies. We also have to be vigilant that here at home we hold our companies to higher standards too.
Cases in point are Osisko's Malartic mine, the tensions triggered by the prospect of uranium mining on the north shore in Quebec; the controversial oil pipeline and tanker port projects in British Columbia and Quebec, including the one in Cacouna; and the Mine Arnaud project in Sept-îles, which dealt a blow to the local social climate. I meet with mining company officials, and I hear more and more of their work and their commitment to this responsibility.
Advance public consultation is a positive and innovative measure because it makes it possible for three things to happen.
First, it puts the public at the heart of the decision-making process. Civil society stakeholders have long called for real, direct public consultation and for the public's wishes to be considered in natural resource development projects. This motion would put the public at the heart of the decision-making process as opposed to the public being told about it after the fact.
Second, advance public consultation helps ensure that the federal government's historic commitments to members of the first nations are fulfilled. The federal government must respect first nations' rights on traditional territories and must submit development initiatives to members of the communities affected.
Third, consultation would ensure that economic development is in sync with the public's vision for the land. If the public's wishes are respected, it will help appease the communities that are struggling to make decisions about contested economic development projects, which would thus create a good environment for investment and for promoting better projects that protect the environment and the communities.
The motion fits well with the NDP's basic position on the environment:
Protecting the environment as a common good by creating a legal framework to ensure that people have the right to live in a healthy environment with access to natural spaces.
We say here today that we want what Canadians want in their communities on these projects: transparency, consultation, and consent.
I have introduced a number of private member's bills regarding foreign ownership transactions, the kind my region of Sudbury has experienced. My bills call for this same transparency and public consultation.
I want to say something about consultation.
I am following very closely the Ring of Fire project in northwestern Ontario. There has been nothing more than a back-and-forth blame game going on between the Conservative government here in Ottawa and the Liberal government in the province of Ontario. Northerners are fed up.
Our first nation communities are reminding those governments, yet again, what the duty to consult actually means. It is more than providing information. It is more than giving an hour's notice of big announcements coming out. It is what the NDP and our leader have articulated clearly: a constitutional responsibility to do full, real, and meaningful consultation.
That is why we support a nation-to-nation approach. At the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada's mega-convention earlier this year in Toronto, my leader made it clear that he supports the Ring of Fire project, if done this way.
Our leader said:
The Ring of Fire project is an important development for families in Northern Ontario today and for generations to come. Unfortunately, Conservative policies have undermined the government's ability to oversee that all social and environmental regulations are being fully understood and addressed.
Citing his cabinet experience in Quebec, he told the mining companies that the Ring of Fire project can only move forward when public confidence and real partnerships with first nation communities are secured. He also underscored the long-standing NDP commitment to deal nation to nation with first nation governments to build relationships that benefit people, business, and the land.
This not a playing of the economy over and against the environment, as we see the current government do. It is finding a way to be both for the economy and for the environment. This is a win-win situation, especially for first nations and other communities. It makes smart business sense, too, as more mining companies are discovering.
The purpose of the motion is to make it mandatory for the government to consult Canadian citizens and first nation members before implementing a natural resource development project on their territory or in their living environment. Public willingness should be a criterion in obtaining a development permit to the same degree as impacts on human health, ecosystem maintenance, employment, and economic development.
The electoral district of Abitibi--Baie-James--Nunavik--Eeyou (Quebec) has a population of 80,894 with 57,492 registered voters and 157 polling divisions.
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