Mr. Stan Schellenberger (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development):
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure today to rise in debate on this Bill, one that my constituents in the constituency of Wetaskiwin have been asking for for some time.
The bands at Hobema use their trust accounts to assist the parents of children to raise minors. This has been the practice of those bands for some time. However, in the last number of years the Auditor General has raised some questions as to the manner in which Parliament is allowing this to take place. So it is indeed a pleasure to see this legislation before us today. Once and for all we will no longer have this practice being questioned by the Auditor General and Members of Parliament as to whether or not it is in fact in order.
One of the primary goals of the Government is to return to Indian people control over their lands, over their lives and over their funds, moneys that have been gathered either through resources, through the Bill which we just finished debating, or in other business activities on the reserve. The manner in which they use those funds should well be within their jurisdiction.
Since coming to office we have moved steadily forward in this regard. We are doing so again with this legislation today. We are giving new impetus to the whole area of devolution, encouraging local decision-making and Indian participation in the development and delivery of a wide range of programs.
June 2, 1988
The Bill before us today is an important step for all Indian people. The key element of Bill C-123 is that it will provide Indian bands with an opportunity to take an active role in the release of funds to Indian minors, to parents or guardians of such minors, which is presently the sole responsibility of the Minister.
Indian people have the ability to direct their affairs and those of their children. The legislation before us today is very progressive in that sense. In fact, it has been in practice for some time.
As I have said before, serious concerns have been raised by the Auditor General concerning the way that the Department discharges its trust responsibilities. Accordingly, many of those concerns are now being addressed through a major review of the Department's plans, revenues and trust functions. As a result, this Bill, Bill C-123, deals almost exclusively with minors' trust funds.
Presently under the Indian Act all moneys derived from the sale or lease of Indian lands and resources are held in trust by the Government of Canada for use by the bands. As well, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (Mr. McKnight) is authorized to direct the expenditure of those funds for the benefit of the bands concerned.
The Indian Act also authorizes him, with the consent of a band, to arrange payments to individuals or individual band members. The total amount distributed in this way cannot exceed 50 per cent of the band's capital moneys derived from the sale of surrendered lands. These lands are generally surrendered for resource exploration purposes.
Distribution payments to minors are held by the Government of Canada in individual trust accounts and released to minors when they reach the age of majority. The Department now maintains about 19,000 of these accounts worth more than $145 million. The vast majority are held on behalf of resource-rich bands in Alberta, or other bands of a resource nature in British Columbia.
One of the difficulties that I have noted over the years with respect to holding trust accounts until the age of majority, particularly in the oil-producing bands of Alberta, is that when these funds are released to a person who reaches 18 years of age there is a great feeling that these young people are not yet capable of investing, in some cases many tens of thousands of dollars, at that age. They often use that money to their personal detriment. Perhaps they buy a new car, which we are all susceptible to doing when we receive some money, and then go out on a bit of a celebration because of the windfall that comes at 18 years of age. I have spoken to the chiefs about this issue, and together we should consider a way in which this money can be sent out to the person after the age of majority, not all at once but in payments over a period of a number of years. That is an aside, but is relevant to what is happening and to this Bill.
In 1981, Indian bands in Alberta asked the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to make payments from these trust funds to parents or guardians of Indian minors to help provide for minors. A departmental directive was subsequently developed, and has been used for the last five years. Upon receipt of a band council resolution, the Department will pay up to $3,000 annually from the distribution made on behalf of minor band members directly to the parents or guardians of all such minors, in the band.
However, there are no specific provisions in the Indian Act authorizing the Minister to make payments to parents or guardians of minors, on a minor's behalf without a specific request for that money, and also establishing the need for that money. The Auditor General has suggested that the Minister is bound by provincial trust laws, common law practices and principles of trust.
Bill C-123 is designed to incorporate the basic principles of the provincial regimes governing moneys held on behalf of all minors in Canada, while still accommodating the particular needs and circumstances of Indian minors. In this manner, it strikes an important balance between ensuring that Indian communities can protect the interests of their minors, and providing for the lawful release of moneys by the Government of Canada to those who are entitled to them.
Specifically, Bill C-123 amends the Indian Act to provide the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development with express discretionary authority to make payments from a minor's trust fund to a parent or guardian for the maintenance, advancement, or benefit of the minor.
The legislation further amends the Indian Act to provide band councils with the authority to direct the Minister to pay all or part of per capita distributions owed to an Indian minor to a parent, guardian, or the council for the minor's maintenance, advancement, or other benefit. Under this amendment, the council itself may assume responsibility for distribution to a parent or guardian. The amount payable will be the lesser of $3,000, or the amount of the annual per capita distribution paid to members of the band.
Bill C-123 also amends the Indian Act to enable the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to pay all moneys owing to the minor at age of majority in a series of payments over a period of not more than three years. This is what I mentioned before, Mr. Speaker. In some cases, perhaps three years is not long enough, but it certainly is an improvement over what was allowed in the past.
A request to make payments in this way must be made in writing to the Minister by a parent, guardian, or the council of the band to which the minor belongs. This provision was included at the request of concerned Indian parents who were becoming increasingly alarmed at the tragic loss of their children's heritage through their inability to manage large sums of money at the age of majority.
June 2, 1988
These amendments are important from both a legal and a practical point of view. From a legal standpoint, they ensure that the Minister has the authority to discharge his trust responsibilities. From a practical standpoint, they ensure that at least some of the minor's trust money is available for his or her maintenance, advancement, or benefit.
The Bill also provides for one other important amendment to the Indian Act. This one is unrelated to minors' trust funds. Subsections 48(1) and 48(2) of the Indian Act will be amended to increase a surviving spouse's preferential share in the estate of an intestate from $2,000 to $75,000. This brings the Indian Act in line with the most progressive provincial legislation in this area.
Progress, fairness, and keeping commitments are what this Bill is all about. I know that all Members from all Parties are concerned about this, and hopefully this Bill can be moved along relatively quickly.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: INDIAN ACT