Hon. Ethel Blondin-Andrew (Minister of State (Northern Development), Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to this legislation.
Serving the public here in the House of Commons is a wild and wonderful experience. I have just come from the Commonwealth Room where I met with the Métis of Alberta. If there ever was a group that was impacted by resources in their region it is that group. They felt such empowerment from the legislation they put together in terms of the Métis settlement. It will enable them to create wealth and opportunities for employment for themselves. This speaks loudly in support of Bill C-54. This legislation is necessary, empowering and definitive.
The Métis were here today to announce the opening of an office in Ottawa. This will further empower them to achieve and enact the provisions of their settlement.
Bill C-54, the first nations oil and gas and moneys management act, will equip first nations that choose to participate with vital tools to create good jobs, stimulate economic activity and improve the quality of life in their communities.
I would also like to share some of the successes of my first nations constituents in oil and gas development north of 60. It is not doom and gloom. People have different interpretations on how expropriation works. The reality is that every democratic government does not have expropriation as the first step. It is something that is done after having exhausted every other possibility.
I like to be positive about these things. I think this is a wonderful piece of legislation. I am really into empowering our people to create their own wealth and to be self-sustaining. Bill C-54 does that. It makes the rules quite clear, which is a good thing.
First and foremost, this legislation was designed to respond to the specific needs of the three sponsoring first nations, the White Bear First Nation, the Blood Tribe and the Siksika First Nation, which were directly involved with the first nations oil and gas pilot project launched in 1994. Not every pilot project ends in legislation. Obviously a lot of success was gleaned from that pilot project.
I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the efforts of the sponsoring first nations and the great success that has already been achieved over the past decade. Their commitment to working in partnership with Canada to develop this legislation is honoured as we help them to reach their goals.
Bill C-54 builds on the excellent progress the government has made through several recent initiatives, including the Canada-aboriginal peoples round table, the policy retreat, and the upcoming historic first ministers meeting. It builds on the commitments made in recent Speeches from the Throne, budgets, land claims and self-government agreements. We have achieved some major milestones with our partners in the aboriginal community across the country.
This legislation provides two related but distinct authorities for first nations. First, it provides communities that opt in with the authority to gain complete control and management over their oil and gas resources, creating jobs in the expanding oil and gas sector. Second, it provides these communities with the authority to gain complete control over the management of their moneys held by Canada on their behalf, allowing them to respond to emerging economic opportunities. Therein lies the challenge. First nations are not always in a situation to do that, but in this case we are heading in the right direction. I believe this will be very helpful.
A first nation that chooses to opt for the legislation can opt in to either the oil and gas provisions or the money provisions or both.
Economic development on reserve and strengthening communities continue to be priorities of the government. I am pleased to note that first nations communities both north and south of 60 will be able to take advantage of the opportunities afforded under the moneys management provisions of the legislation.
However, the oil and gas provisions do not apply in the north because oil and gas development is presently governed by a distinct legislative and regulatory framework. South of 60, FNOGMMA as Bill C-54 is known, would remove several levels of federal oversight and offer to first nations the same benefits that many northern communities are already enjoying in managing their own resources. In fact equity participation is a huge part of that. That is something I just gleaned from a recent trip to St. Petersburg, Russia to attend an oil and gas symposium. All circumpolar indigenous peoples have the aspiration to be involved in managing the resources that are in their region, and any of the resource development activity that takes place.
Extensive efforts have been made and continue to be made in the north to negotiate land claim and self-government agreements to respond to first nations' and Inuit people's desire to manage their political and social affairs and to advance economic development and self-sufficiency. That is the goal of every government at all levels.
Regarding oil and gas development and management, the land claim and self-government agreements enable resource development in the north. They clarify land and resource ownership rights, which are of vital importance to investors. These agreements have created conditions for sustainable economic and social development, providing a land base, opportunities for economic development and modern institutions of government to secure a higher standard of living and quality of life for all northern and first nations people.
Consider for instance the Inuvialuit whose land claim was finalized more than two decades ago. Since then the Inuvialuit have secured valuable partnerships with several companies and have launched dozens of businesses. These partnerships and businesses generate revenues that help pay for physical and social infrastructure in Inuvialuit communities and create jobs and training opportunities. They create hope and a vision of prosperity for the people in that region, or at least participating in the wealth that is being created in that area.
By facilitating the success of resource projects, land claim and self-government agreements also have a significant impact on Canada's economy. The economic benefits of large scale resource development projects are felt across the country. Never let it be said that people are not trying to achieve important milestones in going ahead with these projects. Anyone who says to the contrary is wrong.
Land claim settlements and self-government agreements are just one way to ensure first nations and Inuit peoples have the tools needed to assist in fostering business partnerships between industry and aboriginal groups. FNOGMMA provides first nations with similar tools and will also be of tremendous benefit, as we have seen from the northern experience.
Although Bill C-54 describes a somewhat different path than the land claims settlement or self-government approach, it is designed to enable first nations to achieve many of the same goals, such as fostering prosperity and strengthening communities. With the passage of this legislation, first nations that vote to come under its provisions will have more tools available to them as they seek to be more self-sufficient and better able to take charge of their economies. What more could we want for people of any part of this country?
The management authority that this legislation provides will help create jobs in the oil and gas sector, as well as in the many spinoff businesses and all of the value added that result, helping first nations improve their members' quality of life and standard of living. This is a goal shared by all members of this House, I am sure, and all Canadians.
Every community has the right to decide for itself whether it wants to take advantage of this legislation. It simply provides the three sponsoring first nations, and any other first nations in similar situations that choose to opt in, with the authority to assume control of their oil and gas and related revenues, and to assume control of moneys held on their behalf by the Crown.
In effect, Bill C-54 will enable first nations communities to participate in the oil and gas sector and to access moneys held in trust. With these powers, first nations will become more engaged in the economy and better able to implement projects that will improve social and economic infrastructure in their communities, as we have witnessed in land claim settlements and self-government agreements.
If we consider the example of the Inuvialuit or, more recently, the Tlicho, the Labrador Inuit, the Westbank First Nation and even the Kwanlin Dün self-government agreement signed in February of this year, we can see where Bill C-54 might lead. We can see improvements in the transportation networks and in health care and educational facilities. We can see post-secondary scholarships, youth centres and assisted living residences for seniors. For the first time in generations, we can see young people looking forward to bright futures.
In the end, this is what Bill C-54 is all about: enabling first nations to assume greater control of their social and economic destinies. It is about ensuring that first nations have the access to the tools they need to improve the quality of life in their communities.
It is through these types of arrangements, whether they are land claim settlements, self-government agreements or initiatives such as FNOGMMA that ways are found to forge a lasting partnership between first nations and Canada which will set us on a new path toward prosperity.
In my area, we are proposing to build a pipeline that is 1,200 miles long, all along the Mackenzie route. We have achieved significant milestones to move that along. These are not easy things. It is this type of legislation south of 60 that will enable our friends, relatives, people in the south and neighbours to be part of what is happening in their backyard. That is so important. For too long, aboriginal people have been sitting back and waiting for arrangements to evolve. That is not going to happen.
This bill will help that. This is the work of first nations people. They did the pilot project that actually enabled them to come up with this legislation. They are responsible for this. This is a very good piece of legislation. We should support it.
We believe the empowerment of our people is a singular objective of every first nation in Canada. I want to appeal to the members of the House to support this wholeheartedly.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act