Ms. Val Meredith (South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-11 on the Westbank agreement.
I want to comment on some of the heartfelt remarks that my colleague made and the good work that he did for the party. We went into the aboriginal communities and talked to the people who live there to find out the situation and what they thought, rather than just taking the views of representatives of the aboriginal community who make a living out of lobbying the government.
As representatives of the people in this place, we are their only voice when it comes to government legislation. We often forget that role. We get taken in by the government bureaucrats' position. We are presented with a finished product and we either approve it or reject it. We forget that we are here to speak for the people out there who will have to live with the legislation.
I spent 15 years in Canada's north living with the aboriginal community. I have some very real experiences of the differences between the aboriginals who happen to be registered with the government and those who for whatever reason were never registered. The difference in the way they are treated is incredible. Members of one part of the aboriginal community, and many of them share the same bloodline, are given almost everything they require and the others are given nothing.
I was employed by the government of Alberta for a period of time to bring self-government to that aboriginal community that was not registered with the Government of Canada. It was part of my responsibility to prepare that aboriginal community for self-government, how to run its own community, how to handle the ownership of property, because the Alberta government did give ownership to a community that had squatted on Crown land for generations.
There is a lot more to it than just a piece of paper and writing things in a statutory way. There are cultural differences. There are lifestyles. There are expectations and emotions. They all become part of being ready for self-government.
My hon. colleague from Wild Rose mentioned that not all of the aboriginal community agree with the direction in which the government is taking them, but they have lost their ability to express their concerns. We forget that it is our job to represent those concerns here before the bill is passed. We try in whatever way we can to say there are concerns and problems but once it is written in statute, it is very hard to undo, to change.
It is going to be very difficult for the people who find themselves somehow left out of this agreement. They are not going to have the same rights as all Canadians. They are not going to have the ability to own land. Many of the people who live on that reserve are not going to be able to vote for the taxes that they are going to be asked to pay, or for the representation that is going to supposedly represent their interests. How are they going to address some of the outfalls of this legislation? It is very important at the end of the day, whether we win or we lose, that this enter into the debate.
It is unparliamentary for members of any party in this House to think or to accuse that there are other motives when an individual, representing whomever, raises issues. Our job is to bring up all the issues and represent all sides of the question.
I would like to express some concerns that I have. Once again, the federal government, as my colleague from Wild Rose said, is rushing to sign on the dotted line to make something statutory. We are not looking far enough down the road and the what direction we should be taking with all Canadians, aboriginal communities and non-aboriginal communities. We should be looking at the broader, bigger picture of equality of all Canadians. We should be making sure that we do not have communities, whether they are aboriginal or non-aboriginal, living in poverty.
I have hands-on experience of the situations about which the member for Wild Rose spoke. I went to communities that I could only fly into. In the wintertime maybe they could drive, if the ground was frozen thick enough. These communities had a health nurse that came maybe every two or three weeks, if the nurse could get in.
I remember arriving at an airport in one community and a man was waiting for a ride out, if he could hitch one. Up in the north people hitch airplane rides, not car rides. He had a gash on his face that was taped together with Scotch tape. It was a deep gash that required stitches, but the health nurse would not be back for another couple of weeks. These people do without the help that we all assume is our right.
I brought potable water into the communities, and treated the water that they used for drinking and cooking purposes. These communities had high incidences of sickness because people were drinking the water from the lakes. In these communities all the houses are built around the lakes. For years, garbage and sewage and whatnot have been going into the lakes. The people drink the water from the lakes or rivers which is a problem.
In trying to deal with their health issues, we were trying to bring them services which we take for granted. Many of these communities do not have roads to connect one community to another. This is what the people want. They want to be able to contribute their opinions and run their communities.
I think the majority of them really do not care about the statutory framework that is being developed by government to allow them to run their communities. These people want to know that they can vote for their representatives. They want to know that they can own property. They want to know that they can develop their communities, develop a fire response team, develop a recreation board, develop good services. They want to be part of that.
They do not want a statutory document stating the parameters, that they will not be able to own their own homes; that we are not going to protect their charter rights, because for whatever reason we might be leaving them out of the charter; that we are not going to guarantee them a democratic government where they get to vote; that we are not going to guarantee any protection for the non-native people who live on the reserve.
I have had first-hand experience where people who had lived on a reserve for 50 years, for two or three generations, automatically overnight were kicked off the reserve for no good reason. No one protected them. It happens. It happened in Musqueam in Vancouver. Situations change overnight and affect the residents.
A statutory declaration or document is not going to protect the people. It may prevent them from developing and growing and running their own community in a natural course of events with people helping them to get to that level without it being a statutory document that encumbers them.
I want to share a story with the House. Senator Walter Twinn represented the area where I spent a good number of my adult years. Walter Twinn's success depended on his finding a loophole in a statutory document that allowed the aboriginal community to get its funds and decision making abilities out from under the control of the federal government. He went on from there to grow his community, to make an income, to hire them to create business and to take his reserve out of poverty. He did it because he found a way to get out of the statutory confinements that were created by the Government of Canada.
I would encourage the government to stop narrowing its thinking by one contract to another and to start looking at the big picture. What do we need to do to free our aboriginal people? I will not make the distinction between registered aboriginals and non-registered aboriginals. To me they all deserve an opportunity to become part of the mainstay of the Canadian population.
I urge the government of the day to think broader, to look longer term and to stop restraining communities through statutory documents.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Westbank First Nation Self-Government Act