Mr. Bernard Cleary (Louis-Saint-Laurent, BQ)
Mr. Speaker, the content of Bill C-20, vital to the establishment of a new financial relationship between the first nations and the Government of Canada, has fuelled indepth discussions for about 20 years now.
Already in 1983, the report of the Special Committee on Indian Self-Government, the Penner report, had recommended that the financial relationship between the Government of Canada and the first nations be redefined. It concluded that based on a series of failures by the trustee for Canada's Indians in the new to them area of economic development, major changes needed to be made in first nations financial management.
Later, in 1996, the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended a full review of the financial relationship between the federal government and aboriginals. The proposed initiative focused on redefining this relationship within a broader context based on first nations self-government.
Bill C-20 that we are talking about today follows on Bill C-115, commonly referred to as the Kamloops amendments, that was passed in 1988. This first legislative measure extended the taxing powers of first nations under the Indian Act to their interests in conditionally surrendered and designated lands. It stated that this land could continue to be part of the reserves and allowed first nations to adopt by-laws to levy property tax on that land.
The conditional land surrender process was abandoned and replaced by a land use designation process to accommodate leasing arrangements. Thus the former surrendered lands which by definition were excluded from reserve status have become designated lands. Consequently, when land is surrendered conditionally or designated, none of the band's interests are surrendered and the land keeps its reserve status.
Bill C-115 has opened the door to establishing a new financial relationship between the first nations and the Government of Canada. By making the above-mentioned changes, Bill C-115 made legislative changes that have twofold results: they have helped clarify the power to levy tax on reserve land by first nations governments by increasing their tax power.
I would like to emphasize that the financial institutions in the bill before us, Bill C-20, are a national initiative of the Indian Taxation Advisory Board and the First Nations Tax Commission. The first nations financial management board and the first nations statistical institute have been added so as to make up the institutional framework required to support bond issues by the First Nations Tax Commission and attract investment in the lands of first nations.
The first nations financial institutions project has been developed to this stage thanks to the national table on fiscal relations , which was set up in 1999 by a memorandum of understanding between the Indian affairs and northern development department and the Assembly of First Nations. First nations representatives throughout Canada, and officials of the finance department of Canada, Statistics Canada, Health Canada and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency were part of these discussions.
At this time, these institutions are being set up under the guidance of two first nation councils and two first nation advisory committees.
After the Kamloops amendments, in 1988, a number of events strengthened the support for the restructuring of financial relations between the first nations and the federal government, including the finance ministers conference on Indian government taxation, in 1991, the Charlottetown accord, in 1992, and the final report of the royal commission, in 1996.
In 1991, the Department of Finance undertook a review of its policy on Indian taxation and, in 1993, made public the Working Paper on Indian Government Taxation.
In 1995, the First Nations Financial Institute was created by the Westbank First Nation. It was then federally incorporated. The objective was to provide investment opportunities to first nations in order to ensure long term financing of their public debt.
In 1995, a round table of representatives from the Department of Finance and the Assembly of First Nations led to the adoption of a resolution on taxation.
The Chiefs' Committee on Fiscal Relations was created two years later to review fiscal relations between first nation governments and the federal government. It recommended the establishment of first nation financial institutions.
In 1999, the Assembly of First Nations expressed its support for this initiative when participants in its annual general meeting supported the creation of the First Nation Financial Administration, and the creation of the Indian Taxation Advisory Board to establish the First Nations Tax Commission.
In December of the same year, the agreement proposed the creation of a national round table on financial relationships, with the objective of establishing solid bases for these relationships through an exchange of information, capacity building and the establishment of benchmarks.
In 2000, the Assembly of First Nations maintained its support for the creation of the First Nations Statistical Institute and the First Nations Financial Management Board. The general assembly then passed a resolution supporting the recommendation by the chiefs' committee regarding the establishment of the four new first nations financial institutions by federal legislation. The legal validity of this resolution was questioned, since some people thought that it had not received the support of 60% of those present.
Moreover, the bill now requires that each first nation wishing to avail itself of this legislation be added to the schedule. This requirement is intended to clarify which First Nations are governed by the legislation.
Even after all these amendments, which correspond largely to their demands, the chiefs of the assembly of first nations of Quebec and Labrador refused, last week in a special assembly, to endorse the bill until there is a debate in the Assembly of First Nations.
The Bloc Québécois has decided to maintain its support for Bill C-20 because we sincerely believe that the legislation will be of benefit to a number of first nations in Quebec. To be strong, Quebec must have strong first nations with flourishing community economies.
Subtopic: First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act