By: Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A process that began months ago, drew closer to completion early this month with the advancement of Bill C-53, which now returns to the House of Commons for Third Reading. President of Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, Glen McCallum said seeing it read the first two times in the House of Commons and returned to the House by the Senate, made him hopeful for the day that it would be passed. “(After) all the years of our people being on the sidelines or falling through the cracks, it’s a tremendous thing to be able to see in regards to the strides that we’ve made between the federal government and the Métis Nation,” McCallum said.

Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, specifically recognizes and affirms the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Indigenous peoples of Canada which includes the right to self-government. In section 35, the term “aboriginal peoples of Canada” refers to the First Nation, Inuit, and Métis peoples of Canada. Self-governance agreements under section 35 are still subject to provincial and federal law and operate within the framework of the Canadian Constitution, they do not create new and separate legal systems. Bill C-53, which was introduced to the House of Commons in June 2023, is only about recognizing Métis governments as Indigenous governments within Canada, which has been historically denied. It is only about recognizing Métis governments’ authorities and authority concerning their internal governance, such as citizenship, elections, government operations, and child and family services. Bill C-53 is about implementing the aspects of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) included in self-government agreements and recognizing Métis governments’ self-determination and self-government over internal affairs. UNDRIP recognizes, among other things, that Indigenous peoples have: “the right to self-determination” (Article 3), “the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs” (Article 4), “the right to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions” (Article 18), “the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions” (Article 33), and “the right to promote, develop and maintain their institutional structures” (Article 34).

Bill C-53 will ensure that even as governments come and go, the recognition of Métis self-government will not be subject to political change, but it only applies to the Métis governments named in it. It does not impact the rights of other Indigenous peoples, including other Métis or First Nations. From the Métis perspective, Bill C-53s passage can be interpreted as reconciliation in action, because it advances the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in a concrete and practical way.

On February 24, 2023, Métis Nation–Saskatchewan President Glen McCallum and the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations, signed an updated Métis Nation–Saskatchewan Self-Government Recognition and Implementation Agreement which built upon the previously signed 2019 self-government agreement. That 2019 agreement was one of the first of its kind in Canada. This updated Agreement included federal recognition of the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan as the representative government of the Métis Nation within Saskatchewan, the Métis’ inherent right to self-government, and set out a renewed roadmap for moving forward together. This, both parties agreed, thereby created a solid foundation upon which a stronger government-to-government relationship could be built.

“Our Métis ancestors fought for over a century to ensure recognition and respect from Canada, and today we are one step closer to achieving our goal of a constitutionally protected agreement with the federal government…We are nearing a future where our government can be truly rooted in our culture, values, language, and ways of knowing,” President McCallum said at the time.

On June 21, 2023, the Government of Canada first introduced Bill C-53, the Recognition of Certain Métis Governments in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan and Métis Self-Government Act, referred to as simply Bill C-53. Bill C-53 recognizes the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO), the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan (MN-S), and the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) as representative Métis governments in these provinces and provides them potential section 3 self-government rights. Responding to the announcement in a press release, Michelle LeClair, Vice-President, of Métis Nation-Saskatchewan said, “Today, we are taking another important step in realizing the dreams and aspirations of our Métis ancestors… Today’s agreement also supports the ongoing self-determination and self-government work already underway at the MN-S and ensures we have the means and space to create the strongest foundation for our future generations.”

Another important aspect of Bill C-53 is that it will ensure that the MNA, MN-S, and MNO have access to the same tax savings as other governments in Canada when purchasing goods or services. Under the Income Tax Act and Excise Tax Act, “entities performing the functions of government” already have provisions for tax saving. This Bill will, when it receives Royal Assent, extend those same benefits to these Métis governments. However, the path to Royal Assent is a long and winding one.

To become law in Canada all bills follow the same path through the parliamentary system. It starts with the First Reading. First Reading is the initial step in a bill’s progress through Parliament. Bills can be introduced in either the House of Commons or the Senate. If a Bill is introduced in the House of Commons, it will start with the letter C (such as Bill C-53) and will include a number representative of its place in the sequence of bills introduced. After it is introduced, then parliamentarians and others have a chance to read it, before Second Reading.

During the Second Reading, parliamentarians debate the principle, or main idea, of the bill. After the time for debate is over, parliamentarians vote on whether the bill will continue through the process. If it passes Second Reading it moves to the Committee Stage.

At the Committee Stage, the bill is studied in detail by a smaller group of parliamentarians, called a Parliamentary Committee. The Committee hears concerns over the bill as it was presented. There were over 270 briefs submitted and 65 witness appearances before Bill C53 passed through this important stage and a series of amendments were agreed upon by all parties. One of the amendments that was made to the original Bill C-53 had to do with Clause 8, the Recognition Clause. Challenges were made to the wording of this clause as it appeared to state that all Métis in each respective province would be under the governance of the named collectives. To make the distinction between all Métis in the three provinces and Métis who choose to be represented by the Métis governments specifically named in the Bill, Clause 8.1 was added which clarified the continuing autonomy of Métis collectives who choose not to authorize a Métis government to represent them.

At the Report Stage, the bill is returned to the chamber where it was introduced and debated again, including any changes proposed by the committee.

During the Third Reading, parliamentarians debate the final form of the bill and vote to decide if it should be sent to the other chamber. If the bill is passed by a majority of parliamentarians at the third reading in the chamber where it was introduced, it is then sent to the other chamber. Most bills begin in the House of Commons and are sent to the Senate for review. If the reviewing chamber makes any changes, the bill gets sent back to the initial chamber for further review.

Once both the Senate and the House of Commons have passed a bill in identical form, in both official languages, the bill is given to the Governor General for Royal Assent. Once the bill receives Royal Assent, it officially becomes a law. As Bill C-53 continues through the parliamentary process, in the words of Michelle LeClair, it is a testament to the Métis Nation and Canada’s commitment to righting the historic wrongs perpetuated by federal policy.