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.
Subtopic: First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act