November 19, 2004

LIB

Marlene Jennings

Liberal

Hon. Marlene Jennings (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Canada—U.S), Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-20, the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act.

As the Prime Minister said in reply to the Speech from the Throne, and I believe my hon. colleagues will agree, the urgent need to reduce the gap in the development opportunities between the first nations and other Canadians is clearly felt. Canada and the native people recognize that to be able to find a good solution to this situation, it is important to obtain complete statistical information as soon as possible.

Moreover, the main government activities like economic development, social programs, fiscal planning and public accounting all require accurate and relevant statistics. While more and more first nations get ready to take on the responsibilities of self-government, the first nations governments need complete and easily accessible statistical information to be able to take the best decisions possible for their communities.

This bill seeks to establish a first nations statistical institute to give decision makers and first nations citizens better access to the statistical information they need. This institute would take numerous practical actions to meet their needs.

First, the institute would help any first nation interested in meeting its need for local data for the purpose of research, analysis, and eventual decision making. The institute would be in a position to find, analyze and deliver statistical information that would be accurate, complete and appropriately tailored to the specific requirements of the communities or individual groups of first nations.

The first nations would thus have access to the same basic statistics as most other Canadians: statistics on housing, justice, natural resource management, culture, education, the working population and health, to name but a few.

Second, the individual first nations have difficulty setting up and maintaining the statistical systems they require in order to meet their responsibilities and their growing accountability obligations in decision making. These decisions affect the delivery of day to day essential community services, as well as the planning of major development projects.

The proposed statistical institute would help the first nations to develop the necessary ability to use the statistical information and create local information systems in order to better administer programs and funds. By improving the quality of statistics and their comparability with data from other sources, the institute would ensure that the first nations had the necessary statistical tools to help them become more autonomous.

Comparative statistics are essential to community planning and will be needed to attract private investment. It is important for both the first nations and potential investors to have this type of information, since it provides a specific picture of the situation of the first nations concerned and its economic growth potential. WIthout reliable comparative figures, it is extremely difficult to make any precise assessment of the situation of a first nation.

The institute would also have an important role to play in the rationalization of important information on the first nations now in the possession of the federal government.

Among the roles of the institute would be to access information contained in these data bases in order to provide the complete picture of Canada's first nations to which I have already referred. To that end, it would work in partnership with the first nations and the government in order to detect and remedy any shortcomings in the statistical information concerning the first nations, for the mutual benefit of the first nations community and the government departments and agencies.

More specifically, the institute will play a key role by integrating the first nations' perspective in the analysis of the data kept by various federal departments. This will help develop policies and programs that target more accurately the needs of first nations people. This will not only improve the accuracy and current level of information relating to first nations but, by increasing the level of confidence and by demonstrating the importance of quality information, it will also encourage and support the exchange of information between first nations and the federal government.

We must clearly show that the role of the statistical institute will not duplicate that of Statistics Canada but, rather, that it will complement it. For example, the institute will be in a good position to advise Statistics Canada on how to better represent first nations in the national statistical system, and it will also help it develop data collection tools and techniques that reflect and respect first nations' customs and culture. This means that many other first nations would be encouraged to participate in the data collection activities undertaken by Statistics Canada.

Moreover, first nations have numerous information needs that are not covered by Statistics Canada's mandate. The statistical institute will be in a position to identify these needs and will meet them by finding an appropriate source of existing data or by undertaking, alone or in partnership with first nations or statistical organizations, the collection of such data.

It is particularly important to support the real property tax and financing regimes established under the bill. Statistics on residents and commercial businesses on reserves would be useful to first nations to determine whether they should implement a real property tax regime. Moreover, statistical information is an essential component in the development of capital projects through the issuance of first nation bonds by the tax commission.

I will conclude by saying that there is an essential need to create the first nations statistical institute. This institute will provide first nations with statistical information that is adapted to their needs. It would work directly with first nations, first nations' organizations, and in partnership with the government and statistical organizations, to provide a complete, accurate and relevant picture of first nations in Canada.

I urge hon. members to support this bill. I thank all members for their attention.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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LIB

Lloyd St. Amand

Liberal

Mr. Lloyd St. Amand

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with a brief point of clarification on the finance authority. I have now been provided with the correct figure. It is estimated that through the first nations finance authority first nations could raise $125 million of private capital over the first five bond issues, not the $12 million mentioned earlier.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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BQ

André Bellavance

Bloc Québécois

Mr. André Bellavance (Richmond—Arthabaska, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to rise in this debate on Bill C-20, an act to provide for real property taxation powers of first nations, to create a First Nations Tax Commission, First Nations Financial Management Board, First Nations Finance Authority and First Nations Statistical Institute and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

I will read the summary of the bill to revive the interest of my colleagues and of listeners:

This enactment strengthens first nations’ real property tax regimes andcreates a first nation bond financing regime, and creates four institutions tosupport those regimes, to promote first nations’ economic development and tostrengthen first nations’ statistical capacity.

This is the purpose of Bill C-20 which is before us today. At this time, we support referral of the bill to committee. We tend to approve of this legislation, even though we have to say it is defective in some ways.

Bill C-20 will make it possible to create an environment that will help first nations achieve self-sufficiency. As sovereignists, we believe that self-sufficiency can only be achieved when a nation owns and controls all its economic levers. We have talked about this issue quite often. When it comes up here, we are very happy to be able to support it.

Of course, we are concerned with the self-government claims of the aboriginals. We repeatedly supported the right to self-government for aboriginal people and, of course, we are pursuing this approach. We believe that this bill will allow first nations to have access to financial tools that other levels of government are already using, if only to have access to the financial market.

First nations will thus be able to participate in a significant way in their economy and to encourage private investments on their lands, which is now more difficult. First nations, which seek to borrow funds to build their community infrastructure, have to deal with transaction costs, processing delays and interest rates that are much too high or even prohibitive.

A backgrounder produced by the First Nations Fiscal Institutions Initiative says this:

A dollar of first nation tax revenue buys 30 to 50 percent less in capital works than that of other governments. The problem is principally rooted in the legislative and institutional framework.

According to first nations who support this legislation, it is 10 times more difficult to build a first nations economy than any other in Canada. This is because some lands do not have services, investors are uncertain and the cost of starting a business is still too high.

As well, according to these first nations, it is the Indian Act that, for 130 years, has prevented first nations from creating their own institutions and participating in the economy.

We hope this bill will help correct the situation and, to repeat what my wise colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent said a few moments ago--and I have often said how wise he is--to be strong, Quebec must have strong first nations with flourishing community economies.

This is exactly what our dear colleague has said. I repeated what he said because I thought it was very important to mention it. We are sometimes asked what an opposition member can do. That happened to me during the electoral campaign in a debate organized for the public. The chief organizer for the Liberal candidate asked me “What are you going to do in the opposition benches?” In fact, we are preventing the government from just going ahead and adopting any bill they want that does not meet the needs of those concerned by this legislation. Why do I talk about it? Because before this bill was tabled today, we have seen Bills C-23 and C-19 that were not acceptable. These are the two bills that had to be amended to produce Bill C-20.

As I was saying previously, many factors explain why we rejected former Bills C-23 and C-19, as did the first nations. We had concerns about the fact that the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act could work against aboriginal rights and reduce the federal government's fiduciary obligations toward the first nations. We were also concerned that the institutions would only serve a few first nations. We also had other concerns.

Naturally, the Bloc Québécois expressed its concerns and apprehensions during the debate on these previous bills. The work accomplished by the opposition and the first nations has paid off—and that is my answer to the man who had come to me with this question—because Bills C-19 and C-23 were unacceptable. As I said, they were eventually amended so as to become Bill C-20 before us today, which is a much better bill.

I must point out that two very important changes have been made to the bill. First, a schedule was added to ensure that the legislation applies to those first nations who wish to participate, because participation is optional. Second, a non-derogation clause was included to protect the aboriginal rights and treaty rights of all first nations.

These changes ensure consistency with the Charter of the Assembly of First Nations as well as the principles of self-determination, the approach taken by the first nations, and the optionality provided for in recent resolutions of the Assembly of First Nations, which were passed, if memory serves, in Saskatoon and ratified again in Charlottetown.

Notwithstanding these improvements, the Bloc Québécois will remain alert. Of course, we will examine the bill based on certain fundamental principles.

First, does this bill protect the right of first nations to self-determination? Will it be beneficial to first nations, particularly to those of Quebec? Will it protect the rights of, and obligations towards, first nations who are not part of the legislation? Will it help to address the fiscal imbalance for the first nations who use this legislation?

More importantly, the Government of Canada must not use Bill C-20 to opt out of its trust responsibilities towards aboriginal people. We know that it is always the government's job to address inequality between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.

With these concerns in mind, the Bloc Québécois will make sure that Bill C-20 really give the first nations access to tools that other levels of government already have in order to take a more active part in their economy.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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CPC

Carol Skelton

Conservative

Mrs. Carol Skelton (Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, the underpinning idea behind the legislation is that economic development and the improvement of the quality of life on the reserves requires a generation of revenue, the ability to raise capital, through much needed capital works, in a commercially acceptable manner with first nations being directly involved in the process.

It is the initial step in self-government of being in charge of one's destiny and being responsible for their own economic development. It is a first step. There is a much bigger journey that must be taken for the first nations to truly arrive at self-government. As Bruce Standingready of the White Bear First Nation put it, “You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time”.

There is much to be done, but this legislation is a good first step. There are many steps yet to be taken.

My colleague from Souris—Moose Mountain took the opportunity to meet with Chief Standingready of the White Bear First Nation in his constituency, and with Bruce Standingready, the nation's technical adviser. He was impressed with their current development in governance, the operation of the White Bear Lake Resort, the Bear Claw Casino and the integration and cooperation with the community of Carlyle.

The White Bear First Nation is willing and eager to take charge of its own destiny and to participate in the development and the use of its natural resources to better the life of its people, on and off reserve.

On the reserve there are many basic issues, like housing and infrastructure. Housing starts are not on schedule, and more than one family is residing in the same house because funding and resources are not there. Infrastructure, like sewer, water, electricity, is vital to enhance the quality of life and to improve the prospects for increased economic development and employment.

The bill would provide the fundamentals and a powerful option for first nations seeking to move forward to have a greater autonomy in terms of determining on reserve priorities and opportunities. It would be optional and it would not derogate aboriginal or treaty rights of the first nations people of Canada.

The mechanics are established through three branches related to the fiscal side and one to the statistical side. The three branches are finance authority, financial management board and a tax commission. They are all geared to provide the capacity to raise much needed finances at the best rate of interest on the long repayment term and without mortgaging our first nations land.

The whole concept depends initially on the ability of the first nations to raise money by taxation of land, interest and rights, the taxation of business activities and the imposition of development costs, just like any other municipality can. This ability, in and of itself, would be of marginal value to first nations if the rest of the concept were not implemented. A typical local community, for example, can raise $6 million in infrastructure from $1 million in annual tax revenues.

A typical first nation must commit three times as much revenue to finance the same amount of infrastructure. This problem is compounded by the fact that governments use their infrastructure to entice investors to build residential, commercial and industrial development on their land.

It is said, a typical community will entice $5 million in private investment for every $1 million of infrastructure. For example, in my province, in the city of Estevan, investors need sewer, water, power, lighting, paving and streets, and that is every community in Saskatchewan.

Finances can be raised only at good rates for long terms on financial markets when the investors are satisfied that moneys lent are commercially safe and secure. To be satisfied of that, they need to be assured that the basis for sound practices are in place at the government level. The bill addresses that.

The local first nations propose a tax law that must be approved by the tax commission, which will only approve it if the first nations community has a certification from the First Nations Financial Management Board. The tax commission promotes a common approach to taxation nation-wide and ensures the integrity of the system. It enables the first nations community to administer the taxation system and develops training programs for the first nations community. Additionally, they reconcile taxpayer interests with the responsibilities of chiefs and councils to administer first nations affairs.

Under clause 5 and clause 10, a budget must be presented for expenditures of revenues with the assurance that a borrowing member will not authorize expenditures of local revenues beyond the budget. There is a provision for audit and for assurance of the integrity of the system.

The financial management board is established and has two particularly important functions. It provides assessment and certification services respecting a particular first nations financial management and financial performance. It manages compliance and has the power to provide co-management or third party management should circumstances require.

The finance authority under clause 57 is a non-profit corporation and it raises the funds. Under clause 74, its responsibility is to secure for its borrowing members through the use of collective property tax revenues into the future, long term financing for capital infrastructure, lease financing of capital assets, as well as short term financing to meet cash requirements. The authority is allowed to issue security bonds and debentures, and to set interest rates, including repayment terms.

It is by these mechanisms that first nations will be able to access national and international financing, not altogether different from municipal government. It models on the municipal finance authority of British Columbia that has 30 years of success and a high credit rating. It is based on the power and concept of pooling borrowing requirements. It is also a leveller.

Smaller and less economically developed first nations receive the benefit of a larger borrowing pool and the ability to borrow at lower rates. Pooled revenue streams from a number of participating first nations will be used to repay the bond holders. The participating first nations are anticipating an A credit rating and that without pledging first nations land.

With respect to the statistical branch, one can argue we presently have Statistics Canada with a cost of millions of dollars. It might be a duplication however. Much can be said that Statistics Canada is not now providing the type of first nations statistics that will be required. The idea has merit. Chief Tom Bressetti stated:

First nations are beginning to realize how important statistics are and how they influence the delivery of programs and services in First Nations Communities. They are important for funding arrangements, fiscal transfers, policy development and infrastructure development. Community leaders will be better equipped to plan and forecast community needs and the community will be in a better position to encourage economic development and investment.

Chief Manny Jules said:

This will provide the tools they need to build their own economies...It represents a positive step towards a better future. It will provide economic growth on First Nations land.

Other sources of revenue may be added to the stream besides property tax, such as resource rents, government infrastructure payments, casino revenue and grants.

I will close with this comment by Harold Calla:

Like all communities in Canada, First Nations have a right to create good lives for their people...the right to be able to plan for the future, to direct how their money is to be spent and to put in place a system of financial management that will provide a foundation for their children and grandchildren.

Its a real step towards placing control over the financial futures of [First Nations] communities back into the hands of First Nations.

That is why I feel this legislation is an important step and why I will support it.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is the House ready for the question?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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Some hon. members

Question.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

(Motion agreed to and bill referred to committee)

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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LIB

Paul MacKlin

Liberal

Hon. Paul Harold Macklin

Mr. Speaker, I believe that if you seek it you would find unanimous consent that we see the clock as 2:30 p.m.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Shall I see the clock as 2:30 p.m.?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Therefore, the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 1:58 p.m.)

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
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November 19, 2004