In Parliament: Speaking to the UNDRIP Legislation

On April 15, I spoke in the House of Commons at the Second Reading of Bill C-15 which would commit Canada to the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Persons. While well intentioned, this legislation raises many questions about how the UN Declaration fits with existing Canadian law, and which law would take precedence, as well as uncertainty about who exactly speaks for Indigenous Canadians when not everyone agrees. Questions such as this should be answered before we pass legislation. No question the status quo is broken. Is this the answer? [The transcript of my remarks are below the video.]


The transcript of my remarks and the following questions:

Madam Speaker, I represent a riding that is in Treaty 7 territory, the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Nation, including Siksika, Piikani and Kainai, theTsuut’ina nations; and Stoney Nakoda First Nation. We acknowledge all the many first nations, Métis and Inuit, whose footsteps have marked these lands for centuries.

    Let me start today's debate on Bill C-15, introduced to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with the questions I am often asked about its clarifications.

    How is United Nations involved? How do its edicts fit in Canadian law, which of course is much more robust? How do the United Nations edicts affect jurisdictions that have an established rule of law? How does UNDRIP consider and affect unique institutional rights, like section 35 of the Canadian Constitution? How do the two go hand in hand? As this is legislation, will it remain subservient to the constitutional law of Canada that supersedes it? What happens to existing Canadian laws? How are decades of legal precedent affected by this declaration?

     Who will be the decision-makers? That is, the arbiters to balance the various interests and outcomes of these very pertinent questions. Will it be the same stagnant bureaucrats and interest groups that have ensconced the Indian Act as the status quo, in spite of decades of compulsion from all affected corners of Canada to move beyond this paternalistic legislation? Will it be a star chamber of legalists who have never set foot on the ground or experienced the problems that generations of first nations have been striving to overcome?

    One thing is clear: Based on outcomes that have not arrived, the status quo is broken. How do we know it is broken? Let me count the ways. The words that describe the rights of Canada's indigenous people are a meaningful gesture, but gestures themselves are empty. There is no reconciliation that does not include economic reconciliation. Any legislation that we consider must not contribute to any negative impacts on the many indigenous communities that rely on resource development for jobs, revenues and a means to better outcomes. The decision-makers, bureaucrats, legalists, self-serving interest groups, those with a stake in maintaining the miserable status quo, should not be ensconced as roadblocks to the change that Canada requires.

    It is also worth noting that those with a large stake in the benefits of the status quo have no stake in the misery associated with the status quo, which is borne by those who have been actually seeking to escape that misery for decades. Wholesale change is long overdue, and bringing forth legislation to secure the interests of these regressive middlemen is the opposite of what Canada and its indigenous population require.

    Let me caution the Minister of Justice about placing his faith in the same interest groups and intervenors who have been part of the problem on this matter for decades. If the minister wants to get on the ground and hear about the frustrations with those voices by indigenous Canadians throughout Canada who will be affected by this legislation and the uncertainty it brings forth, please take the time to meet with those groups and have fulsome consultation, which has not happened, including in this House where we have had one hour of debate on it prior to today.

    Weeks ago, I asked questions in this House about the effects of the government's actions on the flight of capital for project development in Canada. Oddly, it was after one of the government's appointees blamed risk and uncertainty as the underlying reasons that projects were no longer being viewed as viable investments by foreign capital in Canada. Of course, rather than addressing the causes of the risk and uncertainty and changing the destructive course on which the current government has ventured for six years, the solution seems to be for the government to allocate capital to replace private investment: the magic of social finance to the rescue.

    We know what this means. It means more risk and uncertainty for Canada's taxpayers. What are others are recognizing as a problem is going to be a problem for Canadian taxpayers, and the government is doubling down on the risk Canadians will bear. In regard to UNDRIP, this legislation, as written, adds another level of risk and uncertainty to development in indigenous territories.

     Prior to this country's battle to get ahead of a pandemic 13 months ago, the biggest issue we were facing, as a country and as a cohesive society, were the blockades that were initiated by certain indigenous organizations in support of some parties opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline, traversing Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia. Do we know who these initiators were? Do we know what standing they had: traditional, authoritative, representative, legal, responsible?

    Do we know if these parties had other interests in the outcome? We know the democratic process for the band matters was completely usurped and endorsed by the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, thus by the current government. Therefore, a well-understood process, which had changed substantially, was quickly usurped. Do I need to define “risk” and “uncertainty” for the current government? What does the government see as having legitimacy in the eyes of project proponents? It is definitely not the process as represented. As proponents have attested, if they do not have process, they do not have a path forward.

    This bill, Bill C-15, proposes to increase that risk and uncertainty for indigenous organizations and adds another barrier to the participation in economic reconciliation. Even as project proponents themselves attracted real capital for the development of their own economic opportunities, they will be thwarted again by the government. I thank them for the words, but how about some real action? Let me illustrate the costs of that uncertainty.

    Kitimat LNG is a project on Canada's west coast. The project has been progressing for a decade, along with its partner development the Pacific Trails pipeline. The project proponents have spent over $3 billion to get to this point, which represents a raft of documentation for the regulators, a gravel pad, full agreement from all 16 indigenous organizations traversed by the pipeline and full partnership with the Haisla First Nation at the project site. Thousands of indigenous jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars of benefits to people in indigenous communities, advanced trade training for a generation of people in those communities and the creation of capacity for advancing economic interests do not arrive out of thin air. In addition, more than 40 million tonnes per annum of greenhouse gas reductions will not be met. Sadly, at the end of the day, this project is on hold because there is no path forward at this point in time. Putting aside the ancillary environmental benefits, another file on which the current government is all talk with little tangible results, economic reconciliation delayed is reconciliation denied. Members should tell their children after 10 years that the reason they could not get a better education and advance their own, their society's and the world's interests is because the process was obscure and caused a decade of delays. Then members will understand the frustration.

    The interests advancing this confusion have no stake in the outcome. Let us acknowledge that some of those interests, such as the NGOs that are short-term participants, often funded by foreign actors, have their own interests at heart and are often funded as well by the federal government.

    Words and actions: we hear much of the former from the government and receive little of the latter. How many indigenous organizations have to stand up and say to the Minister of Justice they do not think the law will work and are worried that it adds further to the difficulties they have already experienced before he pays attention, before he gathers consensus, before he shuts down debate in the House of Commons on a fundamental piece of legislation that will change our country's governance going forward, including with those groups we are constitutionally bound to consider under section 35 of the Constitution of Canada?

     We have seen this minister in action with Bill C-7 on medical assistance in dying. Let me remind members that we moved this bill through this House and, on this side of the House, many of my colleagues supported the government's legislation before it went to the Senate. The minister manipulated that legislation in the other place and brought it back here in an entirely different form that ignored the at-risk groups that were left behind in the legislation. As a result, as that represented manipulation, we voted against the process. It was not democratic.

    Does the minister believe that first nations organizations have not recognized his actions? Does he think they are unnecessarily wary of his non-democratic tendencies and partiality to other interested parties? I will repeat that there are many who are moving this legislation forward who have no stake in the outcome. That spells moral hazard and we must divert it.

    Real outcomes, accountability and trust are in short supply with the current government. We must do better.


Mr. Derek Sloan (Hastings—Lennox and Addington, Ind.) 

    Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the member across and I appreciated him talking about uncertainty with respect to these protests and blockades. I want to ask him about a blockade that occurred in my riding. It was a famous blockade that occurred in Ontario in central Canada that lasted for three weeks and it impacted many billions of dollars worth of commerce.

    I spoke to the local chief of that nation in my riding and we were trying to think of a way to end this blockade. He told me that many protesting would not heed his calls to remove the blockade because they did not respect his title of “chief” under the Indian Act. These individuals claimed that they themselves held hereditary rights to the chief role.

    Does the member believe that Bill C-15 would make this type of scenario more likely to occur in the future?


Mr. Greg McLean 

    Madam Speaker, that is a very important question because I have met with indigenous organizations in my riding and across Canada. One of the exact issues that they brought forward is who has standing to say that “you need my consent in order to move this forward”. Does that consent now come at the high school level when every person has to step forward or does it come with an actual legitimacy? We have experienced that across the country. It has been brought to our attention that this is a fundamental that has to change. We have to recognize who actually has the authority to give that consent or withhold that consent at the end of the day. That is not clear at all in the bill.


Mrs. Julie Vignola (Beauport—Limoilou, BQ) 

    Madam Speaker, self-determination means being in a position to accept or reject a project. It also means knowing who has the authority to do so.

    Unfortunately, the Indian Act is fundamentally racist, given its concepts and archaic nature. Bill C-15 is about reconciliation.

    Does my colleague believe that to achieve total and clear reconciliation, the Indian Act must also be changed?


Mr. Greg McLean 

    Madam Speaker, I agree with my colleague.

    I am certainly proud to talk about the existing constraints of the Indian Act. That has to change now. Maybe they should cease to exist. I hope we will see that in the next Parliament.


Ms. Heather McPherson (Edmonton Strathcona, NDP) 

    Madam Speaker, my colleague is somebody from my neck of the woods and someone I consider a friend. I miss being able to talk with him in the lobby and share our different perspectives.

    I want to talk about a specific Alberta issue. In Alberta at the moment he will know there is a lot of debate around coal mining and about mountain top coal mining. I have worked quite closely with indigenous groups in southern Alberta to help them protect their rights, to work with them to ensure their rights are protected. They brought forward a petition that had 18,000 signatures calling on the government to protect treaty aboriginal rights, water rights, species at risk rights and the environment.

     I am wondering why the member feels that implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples would not provide more clarity, more certainty for investment decisions, not less. By involving indigenous people in the beginning of the project, it seems that would make it an even stronger proposition.


Mr. Greg McLean 

    Madam Speaker, the coal development they are looking at that has been petitioned in southern Alberta has been in the process for over a year. I think it started in 2013, so it has transcended different provincial governments and indeed different federal governments and has a multi-party, multi-level of government environmental assessment review going on at this point in time.

    It is important to make sure that we bring everybody in at the front of the line, but have a process involved that actually says, here is where we get input from all of the different actors or interests that are involved in any type of natural resource project development, especially coal mines.

    I understand the provincial government is looking at that very clearly and potentially reverting to a policy that has been in the works that existed back in the time of Premier Lougheed. It is a very good piece of legislation that made sure we protected those interests and the nature that we need to uphold, especially in the Rocky Mountain eastern slopes.