Thursday, May 21, 2009

Is it real? Is it a new relationship? Or just the old game of minority politics?

Bill C-8 a.k.a the Matrimonial Real Property Bill may get killed on Monday.

This post is NOT about merits of the Bill; it is NOT about the issue of Matrimonial Real Property either. Finally, this post is also NOT about whether Bill C-8 should live or die. (For background on the MRP issue and Bill C-8, see CBC, National Post, The Regina Leader Post, )

Instead this post is about last Thursday's House of Commons debate surrounding C-8.

To make a very complex issue as simplistic as possible, the Assembly of First Nations(AFN), the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) and other First Nations groups say:

  1. Sure, First Nations were consulted (insofar as they were asked their opinions on how to solve the MRP problem) but their recommendations were promptly ignored.
  2. The government drafted legislation First Nations don't like and, worse, Bill C-8 won't even solve the problem.
  3. Bill C-8 should not go to committee where it can be debated and amended. It can't be fixed. It should be scrapped. First Nations want a do-over.

So on Thursday the Liberals proposed a hoist motion that would effectively kill the Bill. The conservatives want it to go ahead. The NDP and the BQ don't like Bill C-8, but said it should go to committee. A vote is coming up on Monday.

What I found spell-binding were the arguments surrounding the hoist motion. There was an interesting debate that touched on last year's apology to residential school survivors, reconciliation, democracy and self government vs colonialism.

The full debate is online, but I posted a few highlights below.

What do we make of this? If the Liberals win the next election, will they still be the champions of a new relationship and self-government? Or will the roles curiously reverse (as they have in the past) with the Liberals in power forgetting their words and the Conservatives our champions once in opposition?


Mr. Todd Russell (Labrador, Lib.):
The government's approach is one size fits all. It has not worked in the past and it will not work in the present or in the future. Canada learned that lesson the hard way through the residential schools experience.To first nations people, this hearkens back to the days of the Indian agent, when they had an overseer, someone who would say what was right or what was wrong, what was appropriate or inappropriate in first nations communities. It flies in the face of the inherent right to self-government and the nation to nation relationship. It is a colonialist approach, an assimilationist approach, a paternalistic approach, and believe me, I use those words deliberately......

Madam Speaker, we can only look at what the consequences have been of a colonialist, paternalistic, assimilationist approach: poverty and health outcomes. There is not one outcome where aboriginal people are ahead of the rest of the Canadian population. They have substandard housing, high unemployment, high suicide rates and a massive number of children in care. Some estimate it to be 27,000 people in care with first nations and non-first nations agencies......

This is what the imposed approach, the colonialist, assimilationist approach has done. On June 11 of last year, there was an apology. The apology was supposed to mean something: a way of doing business differently and a way of approaching our relationship with aboriginal people differently.

A better approach would be to work productively and transparently with first nations; work with first nations governments to develop their own laws and the administrative support for their operation; work with first nations governments and citizens on the full spectrum of approaches, legislative and non-legislative, to family law. Where federal legislation is required, first nations should be brought to the table to help in the drafting of a bill that can obtain a much broader consensus. The government should engage in that intensive consultation that is required.


Mr. John Duncan (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, CPC):

As we know, there are 630 bands in Canada. So we need to be concerned about that. Somebody has to take leadership, and the government is taking that leadership....

We keep hearing that there was no meaningful consultation. There was $1.7 million provided to the Assembly of First Nations regarding consultation on this issue. There was $1.7 million provided to the Native Women's Association of Canada for further consultation on this issue. There were moneys provided to other aboriginal organizations for consultations on this issue. There were consultations in more than 100 jurisdictions across Canada on the need for this type of legislation.

...There is no area where the federal government has a bigger responsibility than to take leadership in these areas. If we do not take that leadership, it would be an abdication of our responsibility. I really do not know who else can provide a nationally organized effort in this regard. It is our constitutional responsibility.....


Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.):
...The whole question that is being discussed is not one that can be subject to an easy formula. When he says, for example, that this is as a result of the government's determination to do something on behalf of the most vulnerable, it is the phrase “on behalf of” about which we have to think through its implications....

Everyone in the House has to understand that if we are to take government-to-government relationships seriously, and I feel this very strongly as a member of Parliament, it means that I do not have a right to pass legislation that applies to first nations people and to first nations reserves unless that legislation has the full support of the people on whose behalf it is being proposed.

We have to abandon the kind of paternalism that unfortunately underlies this legislation. It simply is not possible at this time in our history for us to take this kind of approach. I know it is difficult. I know it is frustrating. I know it is costly. The parliamentary secretary has spent some time focusing on how much money was involved in consulting with the first nations people.

....However well meaning the bill may be and however much the government may believe that it has found the answer to a problem, the simple fact of the matter is that this legislation does not meet the fundamental test, that it has the active support and approval of the people who are being affected by this legislation....

Be that as it may, it seems to me that we do have a responsibility as members of the House. We do have a responsibility to take self-government seriously. If we are to apologize for past errors, it is not enough to apologize for the mistakes that have been made in the past and then to say that despite that, we will still go ahead and pass legislation because we know better.

I sincerely believe that if we are to take self-government seriously, that means not simply that we consult and say, “Thanks very much for your point of view, but we will go ahead and do this anyway”, but it means that we have to respond in a different way. We believe on this side of the House, in the Liberal Party, very strongly that measures such as these can only be taken if they have the full support and approval of those who are responsible, in leadership positions, in the first nations and aboriginal communities.



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