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Child and Family Services - Bill C-92

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum: Thank you for being here today, minister. As the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples has already heard from a number of groups from different provinces and territories, there is a prevalent concern that this legislation would disrupt and negate the progress and experience that they have each accomplished in their own regions.

In the interests of upholding and maintaining the good work done by these regions, would the government be supportive of an amendment that would exempt a province or territory from this legislation? I’m speaking about Manitoba, which has had a difficult time forming a positive relationship and moving forward with the provincial government.

There have been recent instances where provinces and territories have pushed back against the federal government when they feel it has encroached into their provincial jurisdiction. A prime example of this would be the current situation surrounding the carbon tax. There is concern that this type of jurisdictional challenge would result from this bill.

Hon. Seamus O’Regan, P.C., M.P., Minister of Indigenous Services: Senator, the Government of Canada has the authority to regulate on child and family services based on section 91(24). That’s our constitutional power regarding Indians and lands reserved for Indians. The Daniels decision confirms that all three groups — and by the three, I mean First Nations, Inuit and Metis — are section 35 rights holders.

We have no intention of absolving any province of their rights or duties here, although I do understand the concerns of many. Certainly, not only have I spent time with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, but following that I spent two very difficult hours — I’ll be honest — with Cree women and elders in Manitoba.

As the senator acknowledged, they have had a very difficult relationship with their provincial government, one that is long and historic. I would simply say that under Bill C-92, should any Indigenous community wish to exercise its rights over child and family services, we have one year to sit down with them. In this case, it would be the Government of Manitoba and ourselves, as I have assured them.

What some of these women have expressed to me is that even one year of talking to their provincial government is too long, but I said that we have to make best efforts and we all need to work together. Provinces certainly do have a certain level of expertise when it comes to child and family services, but I will be very blunt: the legislation, as it is, gives everyone one year, and after one year of good faith negotiations, if an agreement cannot be reached, then the legislation of that First Nation is upheld. That is what makes this particularly groundbreaking and historic legislation, and one that I stand by.

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