MANITOBA Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister was "pleasantly surprised" Thursday when the NDP, along with Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard, unanimously backed his motion calling for Ottawa to get on with passing a bill to extend marital property rights to aboriginal women living on reserves.
Pallister has been fighting to extend marital property rights to reserves since he was an MP. He left Ottawa in 2008 and was elected the provincial Tory leader last summer. Such legislation has been on the books in Ottawa four times. The first three times it died on the order paper because Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament or an election was called.
It was introduced for the fourth time in September 2011 and has made it through the Senate and partway through the House of Commons. The bill now awaits a committee hearing.
Pallister said he hopes the fact all three parties in Manitoba back the bill will help ease its path the rest of the way.
"I hope that this show of unanimity... will send a message," Pallister said.
The division of property when a marriage breaks up is normally dictated by provincial laws, but the Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that provincial laws didn't apply on reserves.
Because the Indian Act is silent on the issue, there are no laws that govern marital property rights on reserves.
It means women on reserves are often left without anything when their marriage breaks down.
Bill S-2 fills that void by providing some temporary rules to follow until First Nations can enact their own laws to address the use, occupation and possession of family homes and the division of other property between spouses and common-law partners.