Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals):
I would like to join in the debate on this particular matter. I thank Senator Pate for the history and the background. It’s quite complicated and takes some time to understand the background that led to Bill C-70. I thank Senator Patterson as well for that
I’d like to focus on a point that Senator Patterson has just made, and that is the process that brought us here.
Bill C-70 was introduced and given first reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday, February 14. That is this year, two weeks ago.
As is the practice, there was no debate or explanation of the contents of the legislation. That would have to wait until second reading stage began. And that’s our usual practice here as well.
But, the following day, before any debate whatsoever could take place, the Honourable Bardish Chagger, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, rose and said:
Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and if you seek it, you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:
That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-70, An Act to give effect to the Agreement on Cree Nation Governance between the Crees of Eeyou Istchee and the Government of Canada, to amend the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, be deemed read a second time and referred to a committee of the Whole, deemed considered in Committee of the Whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at the report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.
The Speaker then asked whether there was unanimous consent for the government leader to propose the motion. There was unanimous consent given. The Speaker said:
The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
The motion was subsequently adopted and the following observation then appeared in Hansard:
(Motion agreed to, bill deemed read the second time, considered in committee of the whole, reported without amendment, read the third time and passed.)
Colleagues, there was not one word of debate in the other place, no explanation, no debate, nothing other than that procedural information that I’ve just given to you, a series of “deemed.”
There is not even a legislative summary available from the Library of Parliamentary on this, which I tried to obtain to give me some background.
Ordinary Canadians interested in the work of this Parliament would see that Bill C-70 had been adopted by the House of Commons, but, unless they took it upon themselves to examine the bill, they would have no idea of what had just been passed by their elected representatives in the other place.
In my view, deeming the passage of bills through all stages without a word of debate and a word of explanation is a questionable way to bring government closer to the people. I have criticized this process in the past, as many honourable senators here will know, particularly with respect to matters in finance.
When a piece of legislation is dealt with in such a rapid and cursory fashion in the other place, there is all the more reason to ensure that we faithfully do our job here in this chamber of sober second thought.
Unlike the other chamber, we have not waived our normal rules in this particular matter, and we have not waived our procedures with respect to Bill C-70 because those rules of procedure protect us all and help us to do our job properly.
However, as has been explained by Senator Pate and Senator Patterson, there are good reasons to expedite our consideration of this bill so that important benefits can flow to the Cree people in northern Quebec in the next fiscal year.
Consequently, I hope that we can give this legislation second reading today so that our Committee on Aboriginal Peoples will have an opportunity to hear from the government representatives and, importantly, representatives of the Cree Nation and the Naskapi Nation. It’s very important that we get this on the record.
In this way, even if there is absolutely no information on the public record in the other place about Bill C-70, there will be substantive information available to Canadians in our public records. I think we all have reason to be proud of that.
Colleagues, as we have heard, Bill C-70 is another important step forward in self-governance for Aboriginal peoples. This bill actually flows from the historic 1974 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. Only yesterday, we heard of the instrumental role that our colleague Senator Watt had played in relation to those negotiations. The Cree Nation of northern Quebec was a signatory to this first modern land claims agreement and treaty in Canada’s history.
In July of last year, Canada and the Cree Nation signed the Cree Nation governance agreement that Senator Patterson referenced. This Act of Parliament will ratify that agreement.
Bill C-70 also enhances self-governance for the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach. The Naskapi are a signatory to the 1978 Northeastern Quebec Agreement, which was another major land claim agreement, in this case entered into between the Naskapi and the Government of Canada.
In short, Bill C-70 modernizes the 1974 and 1978 land claims agreements by bringing a stronger measure of self-government to both of these Aboriginal nations. It deserves to be supported. It also deserves to be debated, and it also deserves to be examined by our Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples so that we can be assured that it does enjoy the support of the Cree and Naskapi peoples, as we’re told it does.
I ask honourable senators to support this bill in principle at second reading so that we can send it to committee for further study.