November 19, 2004 (38th Parliament, 1st Session)


Lloyd St. Amand


Mr. Lloyd St. Amand (Brant, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House in support of the first nations fiscal and statistical management act.
First nations have long sought access to the fiscal and statistical tools available to other governments, the tools with which to operate on a more equal footing within the greater Canadian economy. I want to emphasize again that today these same tools are readily available to governments and businesses which operate outside of Canada's non-aboriginal community, tools which might often be taken for granted.
The first nations fiscal and statistical management act is a key milestone along a path toward ensuring first nations have access to these tools, a path which began some 16 years ago.
In 1988 this Chamber witnessed a rare event, a first nation led amendment to the Indian Act that was targeted at improving first nation access to economic development. Prior to the amendment, neighbouring municipalities would collect property tax from non-Indians living on reserve. As a consequence, many first nation communities were losing these property tax revenues, moneys which other governments would normally use to provide services and build their economies. The loss of these revenues spelled lost economic and employment opportunities and lost opportunities to improve the quality of life on reserve.
Happily, the 1988 amendment received all party support, and all who voted for that amendment to the Indian Act would be pleased to know that it did indeed create opportunity, a foundation from which to build.
For example, in 1989 the first nation led Indian Taxation Advisory Board was formed in order to help first nations build effective, real property tax regimes. In 1995 the First Nations Finance Authority Inc. was established and has worked since then to help first nations effectively invest their revenues earned from a variety of sources.
Bill C-20 draws heavily from the research and experience of both the Indian Taxation Advisory Board and the First Nations Finance Authority Inc. It builds from lessons learned and seeks to provide additional tools which first nations would likewise use to build their economies and ultimately improve the quality of life of their members. Therefore it too deserves our support.
The first nation real property tax system has provided local decision makers with increased financial flexibility, flexibility being but one tool that has been used to improve community services and help build local economies. Building on that foundation of success, the bill offers to first nations that choose to participate many of the valuable tools that are fundamental to self-reliance and economic growth.
The transparency and high standards of financial management and decision making supported by the bill would offer investors the certainty they seek to invest in first nation communities. If our larger objective is to close the socio-economic gap, it makes sense to see that first nation people have the same potential to capture economic opportunities as do other Canadians.
The bill would assist first nation communities to borrow on the bond markets, facilitating their access to low cost capital for infrastructure development, thereby attracting needed investment to first nation communities. The bill would also provide first nations with access to the statistical information they so badly need to make strategic planning decisions.
This strategy is consistent with the new approach, which holds that for there to be real economic opportunity and lasting prosperity first nations must be able to plan and direct their own economies. To this end the bill would establish four national institutions that would assist those first nations that choose to participate in accessing and utilizing the fiscal and statistical tools that all other governments in Canada use to address the well-being of their communities.
The First Nations Finance Authority would provide a means for first nations to pool borrowing requirements and raise capital on the bond markets by securing property tax revenues. The strength of joint borrowing should produce a marketable credit rating. It is estimated that through the FNFA, first nations could raise $12 million of private capital over the first five bond issues.
As my hon. colleague, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, indicated earlier, gaining access to the bond markets would lower the cost of borrowing for first nations by some 30% to 50%. For first nations this would mean that every dollar raised through property taxation has more purchasing power in terms of capital infrastructure development.
The second institution, the first nations fiscal management board would not only certify the high standards of financial management of first nations that wished to gain access to the borrowing pool, it would also be able to provide the same service to non-participating first nations that seek to borrow from other sources. Any first nation, whether it is participating in the taxing or borrowing regimes established under the bill or not, would be able to approach the board for advice and guidance on any issues of financial management.
The third institution is the first nations tax commission. This body would establish the standards for the first nation real property tax system established under the bill and approve property tax laws made by participating first nations. This institution would assist participating first nations to strengthen their property tax system, one that is much more complete and transparent, one which provides greater certainty to taxpayers and potential business partners and investors. Transparency and consistency are essential tools necessary for building strong economies. These tools help to build investor confidence and attract private capital and partners.
The fourth institution, the first nations statistical institute, would collect existing data from a variety of sources to develop a complete, relevant and accurate statistical profile of first nations across Canada.
Currently, first nations do not have at their disposal the basic statistical information available to the majority of Canadians, a situation that hinders their planning and hinders the ability of first nations to make the most of economic opportunities. Information available through the statistical institute would support local decision making, which would ultimately lead to improving the socio-economic conditions on reserve.
Each community will decide if and when it will participate in the opportunities presented. The bill simply provides tools for those who would choose to use them.
The time is now for proceeding with this legislation. The time is now to support those first nations that would use the bill to attract and sustain community investment. The time is now to take another important step toward sustainable, self-reliant first nations governments. The time is now to give first nations access to these tools: flexibility, fiscal certainty, transparency, consistency, strong financial management, access to capital and reliability of data, tools that non-aboriginal communities have long taken for granted.

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