Bill C-23 (Historical)
First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
An Act to provide for real property taxation powers of first nations, to create a First Nations Tax Commission, First Nations Financial Management Board, First Nations Finance Authority and First Nations Statistical Institute and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.
Andy Mitchell Liberal
Concurrence at Report Stage
(This bill did not become law.)
Business of the House
Oral Question Period
May 13th, 2004 / 3:05 p.m.
Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, the true miracle is the number of bills we have been able to pass, notwithstanding their opposition to them.
This afternoon, the House will continue with the opposition day motion. Tomorrow, we will return to Bill C-34, the migratory birds legislation. This will be followed by a motion to refer to committee before second reading Bill C-36, respecting communicable diseases. We will then return to Bill C-33, the Fisheries Act amendments, Bill C-10, respecting marijuana, and Bill C-23, respecting the first nations.
When the House returns on May 25, it will resume this list and take up bills that are introduced or reported from committee in the interim.
Thursday, May 27, shall be an allotted day, something that may not interest them.
Oral Question Period
May 12th, 2004 / 2:35 p.m.
Newfoundland & Labrador
R. John Efford Minister of Natural Resources
Mr. Speaker, it is time to set the record straight about the members opposite on gasoline prices. Let us look at when Bill C-23 and Bill C-249 came before the committee. Those members opposed the bills to amend the Competition Act and to look into the increase of gas prices each and every time they came before the committee, every time. Why? Because they know that the federal taxes have not increased on gasoline prices. The prices were put up by the oil companies and by the international world price of oil, their friends in Calgary.
First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
May 10th, 2004 / 5:40 p.m.
Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, I certainly do not question the passion of my colleague opposite, but I scratch my head a little. I reiterate that Bill C-23 provides those tools, after years of continuous consultation. What I understood from his comments is that he would rather see us come in with prescriptive legislation that would be forced on all bands.
Clearly the bill is not that. The bill is not an assumption that one size fits all. Whether we look at first nations or any legislation, I personally do not believe that one size fits all. If we provide the kinds of planning tools the municipalities have and the kinds of statistical information that is the bedrock of good planning, I believe first nations will take advantage of those tools which will lead to better housing, health care and a brighter tomorrow for all first nations people. However, I do not believe it needs to be prescriptive.
I believe first nations, given the partnership and the kind of tools provided in the bill, will find their way forward to a brighter future with the assistance of the government, not having it imposed on them, as sometimes has happened historically.
First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
May 10th, 2004 / 5:20 p.m.
Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to oppose the motion of the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe--Bagot. I am convinced that Bill C-23 is supported by the majority of first nations. The bill is a direct result of efforts made by leaders of the first nation communities and organizations.
First nation leaders have worked for many years to find ways to remove the considerable barriers to economic development that are faced by first nation communities right across Canada. It is difficult for first nations to improve community infrastructure such as roads and sewers without access to long term capital instruments such as government debentures.
Infrastructure projects are prohibitively expensive. The lack of such infrastructure means that investors look to non-first nation communities with existing infrastructure for development opportunities. First nations find it very hard to compete under these conditions.
Also hampering development in first nation communities has been the lack of relevant and accurate information. For decades, various government departments and agencies have collected data about and from first nation communities, but it has been difficult for first nations to access the related statistical information and often what is available is incomplete.
A few years ago, the Auditor General estimated that each first nation community in Canada annually provided the government with information about more than 150 aspects of community life and data that concerns school enrolment and employment as well as population.
Collection agencies such as the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Health Canada and the Department of Justice used this information for a variety of purposes. Some information was incorporated into official records such as the Indian register, the nominal roll student census report and the health services Canada transfer agreements. Other data was used to track projects related to the aboriginal justice strategy, on reserve housing programs, and dozens of other initiatives.
Statistics were gathered for specific purposes and there was very little effort made to share them with other agencies. Even less effort was made to gather data together to make a complete and accurate statistical profile of first nations across Canada.
All planners know that access to accurate data is essential. Whether a plan involves renovating a building such as a community recreational facility or relates to delivering social services, access to comprehensive and reliable information is absolutely critical, yet the information collected from first nations communities has rarely been provided to band councils and first nation leaders. This impaired their ability to plan effectively. As a result, few first nations have developed the needed familiarity or the expertise to utilize statistical information in order to do their planning, make decisions and carry on negotiations.
The proposed statistical institute would collect existing data from a variety of sources to develop a complete, relevant and accurate statistical profile of first nations right across Canada. The institute would also support first nations who wish to build their capacity in understanding and utilizing statistical information for planning, decision making and negotiations. In this way, first nations would have the necessary statistical information management skills that would allow them to do long term planning and mapping for their communities.
A few determined first nations have managed to overcome some of the barriers to development by working with partners in both the private and the public sectors. Westbank First Nation, for instance, negotiates lease agreements and collects property taxes from non-members who live or operate businesses on its land. With the revenues generated, Westbank is now able to operate its own day care centre and a seniors' residence, along with developing educational and recreational facilities that benefit the entire community.
Leaders of first nations that collect property taxes have long recognized that tax revenues might also be valuable in other ways. Municipal and provincial governments, for instance, often use tax revenue as a form of collateral to secure long term financing for infrastructure projects. Some first nations wanted to do the same thing with their tax revenue.
Several years ago, aboriginal leaders established the First Nations Finance Authority Inc., an independent body that enabled member communities to undertake pooled investments. As the number of first nations participating in the authority grew, so did the desire to issue first nation pool debentures to access long term money at lower interest rates. These are sound business principles. This concept attracted the support of a key partner, the Municipal Finance Authority of British Columbia, which had 30 years of experience and a triple A credit rating.
Bill C-23 will establish four distinct yet complementary institutions: a finance authority, a tax commission, a financial management board, and a statistical institute. Once these institutions are established, first nations will have many tools long enjoyed by other levels of government.
The concepts reflected in Bill C-23 have been refined through several years of continuous interaction with first nation governments, with taxpayer groups and technical experts such as the Royal Bank, Dominion Bond Rating Service, and Moody's Investors Service, all key players in Canada's financial markets.
Bill C-23 will establish the first nations finance authority. This will enable first nations to raise private capital at preferred rates to do such things as to build roads and undertake other infrastructure projects. Analysts estimate that within five years first nations will raise $125 million in debenture financing by pledging as security their real property tax revenues. An investment of this magnitude will impact first nation communities in a very significant way.
To ensure that first nations create and maintain tax regimes that are both fair and representative, Bill C-23 will establish the first nations tax commission. This commission will ensure that the interests of first nation communities and taxpayers are balanced.
For this environment to thrive over the long term, it is imperative that first nations have access to professional financial management advisory and review services. Lenders must have a clear and accurate picture of the fiscal health of borrowers, and independent assessments must be readily available. The first nations financial management board will help meet these important aspects of a good financially sound arrangement.
The management of the financial board will have two components. The first will focus on first nations that collect property tax and seek to borrow against these revenues. The board will certify that the financial management system, the practices, and the standards of these first nations are adhered to. They will also be able to intervene promptly when required. Under the second part of the mandate, there will be a provision for a range of technical services to first nations. They will assist in research, in advocacy, in financial management policy, as well as capacity development. These activities will help first nation communities make the most of their financial resources.
The fourth institution included in Bill C-23 will resolve problems related to the collection and the analysis of first nation data. The first nations statistic institute will create a common database of information that will be accessible by all first nations. The database will provide first nation leaders with the accurate statistical information that they need in order to make sound decisions. In short, it will enable first nations to become information users rather than merely information providers.
The first nations statistics institute will work directly with first nation governments and with organizations to help first nations identify as well as to meet their information needs. Communities seeking to design and implement housing and health initiatives, for example, will be able to access information about population growth and the effectiveness of the service delivery mechanisms. It is this kind of feedback that is so important to make sure that institutions we develop are relevant to the people for whom we are providing them.
Access to information will also enhance the ability of first nation governments and organizations to collaborate effectively with all levels of government. Vast amounts of information about first nations are currently held in dozens of separate databases. The information institute will see that this valuable information is put to use. This will make possible the more effective and efficient sharing of current, complete and relevant statistical information among first nations and other levels of government, as well as statistical agencies. This will also ensure that the Government of Canada has available the statistical information needed to develop and implement effective policies.
Bill C-23 also includes several safeguards to protect the security and privacy of the data that is held by the statistical institution. It will play a vital role in building the capacity of first nations to utilize statistical information. This institute will provide access to accurate information that will improve accountability and the decision making capacity of band councils and first nation governments.
Not all first nations are interested in statistics. Not all expect to participate in the opportunities created by Bill C-23 and there is no requirement--I repeat, no requirement--for them to do so. Any first nation that does not wish to provide information to the new institute will not be obligated to do so under Bill C-23. There is nothing in this legislation that limits the ability of first nations to collect property taxes and borrow money under the current provisions of the Indian Act.
Today it is our duty to ensure that this first nation led initiative takes the next step. We must ensure that Bill C-23, which now contains numerous improvements added during report stage, is given third reading. A great deal of consultation has gone into this very important piece of legislation and it is up to the House to act upon those wishes.
First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
May 10th, 2004 / 4:55 p.m.
Paddy Torsney Burlington, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and speak in support of Bill C-23, the first nations fiscal and statistical management act. I have spoken on this bill before. In fact, I even had comment from people who are supportive, who are in the aboriginal community, and who want this bill and the tools that it offers. Not every aboriginal person has the same opinion, but that flexibility is introduced here.
The Prime Minister has talked about a new and strengthened relationship with aboriginal people, and a new approach to resolving the lingering and unacceptable disparity, the disparity described by members opposite and on this side that we are all trying to address. There is an unacceptable disparity between the quality of life of aboriginal people on the whole and other Canadians.
On April 19 we witnessed in the country an important milestone in our relationship with aboriginal people with the Canada aboriginal peoples round table. It was a gathering which was called by the Prime Minister. It brought together elders, the Prime Minister himself, aboriginal leaders, cabinet ministers from this government, and distinguished representatives from various aboriginal organizations in a forum to renew and strengthen our relationship with first nations people, Inuit and Métis. It laid the foundation for a new plan that would see, once and for all, aboriginal people enjoying a quality of life equal to that of their fellow Canadians.
The Prime Minister said at the time, and has said repeatedly, that Canada faces no greater challenges than those that confront aboriginal Canadians and that aboriginal people must participate fully in all that Canada has to offer, with greater self-reliance and an ever-increasing quality of life.
Bill C-23 is about fulfilling the government's commitment to aboriginal people. It is about working in partnership to remove obstacles to growth. It is about working to ensure that first nation people would have access to the tools for economic growth and prosperity, the same tools that my municipality would have that perhaps would not be taken up by the member for Churchill's municipality or your municipality, Mr. Speaker.
Different communities use different tools at their disposal, but they must have the range of tools to be considered truly equal to get the quality of life that is appropriate to all Canadians as well as the ability to select and not be prescribed to by any government. It is about respecting the ability of first nation people to find their own solutions and apply them in ways that make sense for their community.
Bill C-23 would offer to first nations many of the practical tools that are fundamental to fiscal growth, economic growth and self-reliance. It would offer investors the certainty they need to invest in first nation communities. The 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 other Canadians.
Overall, the bill would assist first nation communities to borrow on financial markets, facilitating access to low cost capital for investments in local infrastructure, and thereby attracting needed investment to first nation communities, the same kind of investment that my community has access to attracting and that competes with other communities.
The member from Scarborough is here. His community competes with other communities in Canada for investments. This ability to find the right tools and the right investment opportunities is something that is required by our communities and first nation communities.
Bill C-23 is part of a new approach which holds that first nations must be able to plan and direct their own economies for there to be real economic opportunity and lasting prosperity. The bill would establish four national institutions that would improve the quality of first nation government to address the social and economic well-being of their communities.
The first nations financial authority would provide the same access as non-aboriginal communities enjoy to sources of low cost capital such as through the bond market.
I would like to point out to hon. members that the proposal has been endorsed by major bond underwriters and credit raters. It is expected to allow first nation communities to raise $125 million in private capital over the first five years. In fact, it is based on the model that has been used in British Columbia whose debentures credit rating has surpassed even Canada's for some time now.
Gaining access to the bond markets would lower the cost of borrowing for first nations by 30% to 50% leaving more money in the community. More money, as the member for Churchill said, which is needed for the priorities of the community. It would leave more money in the community to pay for much needed capital infrastructure instead of paying higher interest rates.
The second institution, the first nations financial management board, would certify the credit worthiness of communities interested in gaining access to the investment pool. In fact, it would ensure and encourage adherence to sound financial management standards by participating first nations governments as would be expected by any other government.
The third institution is the first nations tax commission. This body would expand the role currently performed by the Indian taxation advisory board. It would allow first nations to strengthen their property tax systems.
Just as important, the bill would provide for greater input into rate setting and related issues for those who pay property taxes. Not everyone needs to pay property taxes. It would be a choice that communities would decide. Communities would make their own decisions. It would not be imposed by anyone. It would be a choice. Bill C-23 would offer options to communities.
Among the approximately 100 first nations that already have tax regimes in place throughout the country, we have seen how much can be accomplished with the development of a stable tax base.
Let us look at a few examples. The Millbrook first nation in New Brunswick has used its property tax powers to become one of the fastest growing economies in that province. The Squamish first nation used property tax revenues to build recreation facilities that are creating a very positive environment for children and youth. This is surely something that all of our communities desire. A new purification system at Westbank first nation is supporting both commercial and residential needs of first nation people and non-first nation people alike. Of course, there are many similar outstanding examples.
Moving on to the fourth institution, the first nation statistical institute, this institution would not only help improve the quality and relevance of information available to address aboriginal issues, it would also ensure that first nation decision makers could have access to the information. This would support decision making, make governments more accountable, and help ensure that resources go to where they are most needed.
I know my own community has talked about the importance of having accurate statistical information and ensuring that it is meeting the priorities of the community into the future.
Currently, first nations do not have at their disposal the basic statistical information available to the majority of Canadians, a situation which hinders their planning and the ability of first nations to make the most of economic opportunities. The 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.
There is nothing in the bill that would oblige a first nation to participate in the new data collection activities. The institute would support first nations that wish to avail themselves of this service in building their capacity to understand and utilize the statistical information, in planning, decision making and negotiations. With that, first nations would have the necessary statistical information and management skills to help build a more certain future.
The four institutions established by Bill C-23 would offer first nations the tools they could use to attract investment, build infrastructure, create jobs and address social issues.
It is imperative that we address one extremely important issue. First nations would be accomplishing these goals on their own terms. The proposed legislation is a first nations' initiative. Its development has been led by first nations. The institutions that they would help create would ensure that first nations would play a lead role in long term development efforts.
Just as we see in the House different political parties that are supported by Canadians in my community and in communities right across this country, I am sure there are first nations people who disagree with the bill and disagree with the leadership that has worked to put it in place. That is the nature of Canada and the nature of democracy.
There will be first nation communities that choose not to use the institutions that are available because of the bill and that is okay; however, for the ones who wish to have these systems put in place, surely it is important that we allow them these tools.
The bill would mean that first nation communities would be able to develop partnerships with other governments and industry in order to strengthen their economies and to improve the quality of life for all of their members.
While the proposed legislation creates institutions, participation in them would be optional. Nobody is forcing any first nations to take part in something, for whatever reason, they may choose not to participate. This allows me to clarify other important principles behind the bill and to address legitimate concerns that have been raised in the House.
Bill C-23 does not in any way change the fundamental, historic relationship between the Government of Canada and first nation peoples. The intent of the bill is, first, to provide first nations with the opportunity to use the fiscal and statistical tools that are available to other governments in Canada in support of their efforts to improve the quality of life on reserve.
Second, the bill does not force first nations to tax or to borrow. First nations property tax powers have existed in the Indian Act since the 1988 amendments. Just as there are no directives to make taxing or borrowing mandatory now, there would be no directives issued in the future.
The development of the proposed statistical institute has been undertaken jointly with Statistics Canada. The institute would not duplicate or complement the excellent and world renowned work done by Statistics Canada. In fact, the institute would assist first nations with statistical information. First nations would be encouraged to participate more in the national statistical programs of Statistics Canada.
The Speech from the Throne identified the horrible conditions faced by many aboriginal communities as one of the most pressing issues facing our country today. The Prime Minister, in calling on April 19 the round table, reaffirmed the government's commitment to address those issues. The bill is about living up to our responsibilities, but responding with specific actions to match the expressions of common cause and goodwill that were expressed by many people at the round table.
We have a long road ahead, but we are confident that we are on the right path. The important thing is that we are on this path together with first nations, Inuit and Métis. We are mindful of the mistakes of the past but full of hope, goodwill, determination, and concrete action to arrive at a new destination and a better future for all.
First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
May 10th, 2004 / 4:35 p.m.
Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB
Mr. Speaker, I will be very cautious in choosing my words. I have a tendency to sometimes get carried away.
I am appreciative of the amendment that has been brought forward. It gives an opportunity to reinforce the objections to Bill C-23.
I want to make a point of commenting on a number of aspects related to Bill C-23.
At first blush, when we look at what these institutions are, anyone would think that these would be great to have. With the statistical information, we would be able to properly fund first nation communities and perhaps do what we should have been doing all along. The bill would give first nations a chance to really look after their financial management. It would give first nations an opportunity to collect taxes. It would give first nations control over their finances. However, the reality is that is not what first nations want. They do not want Parliament in legislation telling them that they have to do these things.
That number one reason alone means the proposed legislation should not be before us. If first nations want to proceed with these institutions, I submit they can do it on their own.
I suggest it is purely the government. We can talk about the Crown in this relationship, but let us face it. We are dealing with the federal Liberal government. It is the federal Liberal government that wants this put in place. It is not the first nations and it is certainly not my colleagues in the New Democratic caucus.
I recognize there are some first nations that like some aspects of this. I believe they should be able to proceed if they so desire. However, the majority of first nations do not want it. As a result, we should not have the bill before us, and not if there is going to be a new relationship with first nations, as we have heard many times. It should not be in the House.
I am increasingly concerned that the bill will put first nations that are already in dire straits in even greater dire straits. There are numerous situations in my riding with huge levels of unemployment. I am talking 90% to 95%.
Go into a community. The school is funded through dollars that first nations get. Those dollars come from the federal government. That is how the government goes about getting the dollars to them. The treaties have a partnership relationship, but the federal government never lets first nations forget that they are getting taxpayer dollars. Somehow the government forgets the fact that it is a partnership in the treaties, that the land and resources will be shared. That part gets left out. They are reminded they are getting taxpayer dollars to fund their education, the school, the teachers and everyone else working there.
They have in most cases nursing stations or a health stations. The odd time they have a hospital or a clinic with doctors. Again, that is funded through Health Canada and through taxpayer dollars.
They might have a northern store or another store in the community and maybe another little store here and there, maybe even a gas station. In all my 31 first nation communities in my riding, very few have more than that. Most do not have other economic opportunities. There might be someone working at an airport which might be funded provincially. Because it is on the non-first nation side, there might be some dollars for funding. The reality is the majority of people in those communities want economic opportunities and income coming in, but nothing is there.
The opportunities that have been there in the past are constantly being stripped away from them; the opportunities for fishing and trapping. The fur trade now is under attack again within those communities. Those are some of their limited resources. I ask my colleagues in the House this. From where do they expect these tax dollars to come?
I find it hard to believe that first nations community members are out there saying that they want to pay taxes with the little bit of money they get to subsist on month after month; assistance dollars that are coming to the first nations through the governments. How on earth does anyone expect them to pay taxes?
It is beyond me where this is coming from. If they want to collect statistical information that is just information on how many people are in a family and those kinds of things, they can do it, but I am increasingly concerned about the financial side of it.
As my colleague from Winnipeg Centre indicated, if this is put into legislation and if they then do not buy into it, even for things such as improving their schools or the roads in their communities, they will have to take out a loan. Where will they get the money to pay the loan? Will they take out a 25 or 30 year loan to build a new school? I find it hard to believe that the loan will be interest free. It may be interest free but I find that hard to believe.
Where will the dollars come from? Either the first nation will have even fewer resources or there will be an increase in the tax dollars required. We will have first nations suffering the consequences of being beaten again over their use of taxpayer dollars when, under an agreement, they were assured of certain services. The government has failed to provide that.
We hear of third party management. A couple of years ago one of my first nations contacted me because it was having a problem with its third party manager. It was kind of interesting that in a short period of time, numerous first nations ended up in third party management. It was no surprise to me that the first nations in Manitoba had objected to the government's legislation en masse. As far as I was concerned this would be their punishment, so numerous ones were put into third party management.
In that case we had first nations that could not get information back from their third party manager. They did not sign the contract for the third party manager, INAC did. I have seen the contracts where $30,000 a month came out of their budgets that should have been paying for recreational facilities, infrastructure and fire prevention in the community which is sorely lacking in numerous instances. The money was taken out to pay third party managers and they could not even find out where the money was going.
I asked INAC where its policy was on third party management and where the tendering process was because I wanted to see how this was done. INAC did not have one. It was literally taking the food off the tables of the people in those communities and the government did not have a tendering policy. It was just being handed out to whomever it thought should get the plum contract. As a result, first nations throughout my riding and throughout this country have suffered.
The government has no conscience when it comes to its treatment of aboriginal people in Canada, and certainly with the first nations in regard to this legislation. If the Prime Minister really meant what he said at that meeting, this legislation should not be before us. I am at a loss to understand how any first nations can accept that the Prime Minister's word can be trusted when this legislation is still before us. It should be removed and removed today. We should not even be spending any more time talking about it if there is any truth in the Prime Minister's comments about a new relationship.
I mentioned the limited income opportunities. Often we go into communities, as persons who have not lived on a first nation reserve, and some of our first instincts are to wonder why the people do not move and find a job elsewhere if it is so bad on their reserve. A lot of people had those kinds of feelings. I would suggest that a lot of first nations people have left and gone into urban areas trying to make better lives for themselves and thinking things would be better only to find out that their conditions are worse. We have the situation where numerous native women have gone missing throughout the country and nothing is really happening to find them. Numerous native children go missing and it is no big deal.
First Nations people are searching for a different way of life but the reality is that when people have gone through decades of not being allowed the same educational opportunities it is a struggle to get things back on track.
In the course of righting those wrongs, we have to put the supports in place that give first nation communities the opportunities to make themselves self-sufficient. That does not mean that they need a huge industry or they need to tax properties because they were self-sufficient before they were put on the reserves. Native people were not starving to death before the reserve system. People lived off the land and had homes that provided the warmth they needed.
A fellow in a community in my riding, which is not actually a first nations community, lives alone in a small log cabin. His family has moved on. I would guess that he is in his late seventies or early eighties now but he still chops the wood he needs to keep his cabin warm. However things have changed. I expect all individuals living in first nation communities have the same amenities of indoor water and sewer. If they want to have a furnace in place instead of having to go out and chop wood, that should also be there.
However we have seen very limited resources going in, so it could never be a real effort to improve overall. I want to give people an idea of what it is like in some of these communities. Their water and sewer is a tank that sits out on the lawn. In the house there might be a furnace for people to keep warm. Even though hydro is available in some cases, people cannot afford hydro because they have limited incomes. They do not have the money to pay the taxes or the hydro so they try to keep things down to a minimum by using their ovens to keep the room warm and then they do not have to worry about everything else. For the government to suggest that there are dollars there for them to pay property taxes and it will make life all better, is just not real.
I suggest to the government that if the Prime Minister has any credibility left he would withdraw the legislation. Those first nations that want to proceed should be given the opportunity to proceed. Quite frankly, I think there is an absolute demand that the government account for the $20 million that it has already been spent on these institutions. Twenty million dollars would go a long way in first nations communities. The government has already implemented these institutions without the consent of the first nations and without the consent of the Parliament of Canada. I think it is time the government came clean with everyone.
First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
May 10th, 2004 / 4:35 p.m.
Rick Laliberte Churchill River, SK
Mr. Speaker, as I said before, the Prime Minister and the government have an obligation to create new relationships. I think this kind of fiscal relationship could be well improved.
The provisions in Bill C-23 are not adequate. It is a whole new relationship of taxation on reserve, giving tools that are similar to school divisions and municipal power to borrow money. However, it limits it to band council recognition. What about the tribes and the nations?
The tribes and nations have responsibility for huge tracks of land. As per the vision in Treaty No. 6, the riches of the land were to take care of the needs of medicine, housing and health. That is a responsibility of provincial and federal powers. That kind of context is not in Bill C-23. It is only limited to on reserve and sometimes those on reserve resources are not enough to help it climb out of economic and social hardships. It should be revisited in a bigger and better picture.
In large part, it may not be a partisan thing. I think it is the relationship with the Crown. That is why we focus it on treaties. It should be based on the treaties and their obligations under section 35 of the Constitution.
First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
May 10th, 2004 / 4:05 p.m.
Rick Laliberte Churchill River, SK
Mr. Speaker, I have another opportunity to speak to Bill C-23, but more importantly I would like to speak on the subamendment that has been brought forward.
Being a partial author and seconder of the subamendment, I would like to give the House an opportunity and an understanding of why we should enter into consultation with the first nations leaders and the communities on the impacts and benefits of Bill C-23.
In large part, we would be following the leadership and the vision of our Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, just a few weeks ago, hosted the Canada aboriginal people's round table, and said:
Canada would not be Canada without the Aboriginal peoples.
What that means is that Canada entered into a treaty to create this country. The Crown ascertained these territories by a treaty negotiation, and that process is not finished. There are huge tracts of land in British Columbia and northern Canada that are under negotiation. In light of this, new relationships and opportunities have been negotiated in the interim, but on the understanding that these treaty negotiations will come to a conclusion at some point in time in the future.
However, the Prime Minister understands and recognizes that under section 35 of the Constitution there are the Indians, the first nations of this land, the Métis and the Inuit. At this round table there was full participation of that leadership right across the country. He also mentioned in his speech a premise to ensure success and he set out clear goals: health care, housing, education, business, economic development, accountability, transparency, and capacity building.
Those are very bold and clear goals. In order to succeed, he also said that there has to be a political will. The Prime Minister stated the commitment of his government. This is a new Prime Minister and a new government, with a new agenda, working on a new relationship with the aboriginal leaders. The aboriginal communities and the aboriginal leaders also have an obligation for this new commitment.
The Prime Minister went on to state:
From our vantage point, we will ensure a full seat at the table... No longer will we in Ottawa develop policies first and discuss them with you later.
That statement is probably the most profound reason why this subamendment is being debated in the House now. Bill C-23 is a new fiscal relationship. At no time in the history of Canada, when reserves were created and lands were set aside for Indians, for first nations people, was there taxation of that land. The Crown and the government never intended to put assessment of value on their lands. That was land set aside for Indians. This bill now revisits that fiscal relationship.
There was a fiduciary responsibility defined for the government's responsibility. A lot of it is fiscal responsibility but more importantly, in my studies of the treaty books and the letters of the treaty commissioners in their reports to the Crown and their officials, a fiduciary responsibility of the Crown meant to respect the sovereign nations with which these treaties were being entered into.
The aboriginal nations as nations have to be respected. There is no evidence in Bill C-23 that these nations would be represented or respected. None. It does not even refer to section 35 of the Constitution. In our Canadian Constitution those historic and treaty rights are recognized and respected. This bill does not even base its policies on section 35 of the Constitution.
Let me go back to this. I say that in January Bill C-23 was brought in. There was a throne speech and I want it recognized that in that throne speech, the House of Commons, this Parliament, said it would recognize a relationship with aboriginal people based on historic agreements. Those historic agreements are the treaties. If that happened in February, this bill came before that statement.
Also, on the round table took place in the past month of April, I say this bill should go back; it should go back in consultation with the first nation leaders of this land. They should look at what relationship it is creating, at what is happening here in relation to borrowing money, to borrowing capital.
Municipal governments and school boards know very well about these borrowing powers. They can borrow money for a new school. They can borrow money for a hospital. They can borrow money for water and sewers for new subdivisions. I dare say our government will also push the housing issue to this. If one wants to set up a whole new subdivision with new housing for development, the government will open up an opportunity for first nations to borrow from the financial institutions. These financial institutions are stated in this bill, but one thing that everyone will understand is that municipal governments and school boards they can borrow money: debentures, securities and bonds. They can go to international markets.
There are limitations in the bill: for Canadian and United States markets. Does that mean the Canadian and United States financial institutions are the lobby behind this? Why is the European financial market is not included in this? How come the Asian markets are not included in this? Some day maybe the United States economy will fall away, as it did in 1930. Maybe the European market will be the only one that is secure. Why was that not considered? Why were European and Asian markets not considered as part of this bill? Why limit this to only the Canadian and United States markets? Is it because that is where the lobby came from?
I want to raise this issue because there are a lot of issues and a lot of explaining to do to first nations. This opens up a whole new relationship, a whole new reality of ascertaining a better quality of life on reserve and also off reserve because some of these investments may well include off reserve development. However, this is very limited in the definition of what a financial institution can do and what a tax commission can do. What it is very clear is that the powers are well defined in this bill, and those powers are the powers of the band council.
The powers of the band council were never defined as clearly in the Indian Act or even in the former Bill C-7. Both were very vague on the powers of band councils and chiefs. However, this bill quickly highlights the powers of these chiefs and councils, because those powers will be delegated to the tax commission, to the finance institute and also, I guess, in large part to the tax collector, so to speak, to the financial institution one is going to borrow money from. There will be a delegation of these powers.
In large part, these powers will be creating a property taxation law. That is first and foremost. These are not independent institutions standing on their own. All of them are connected. Even for the statistical institute, it states the reason it is being contemplated is that “accurate, timely and credible” information is “a key element of sound financial planning, management and reporting”.
This all has to do with finances. I would say that statistical institutes should be for cultural knowledge, health knowledge, social knowledge, and education knowledge, so that we would be teaching kindergarten to grade 12 with a curriculum based on a statistical institution, an atlas of knowledge and a traditional land use knowledge. It should be that kind of statistical base.
No, this statistical institute is deemed designed for financial planning, financial management and financial reporting. Money talks. That is what scares me about this bill. Money is dictating the reason for Bill C-23 happening now. It is based on the premise that in regard to the socio-economic disparities of on reserve existence, those opportunities should be equal to other opportunities in other communities in Canada.
However, the municipal and school board structure of this country may not be the panacea for on reserve development. There may be other alternatives. Maybe the alternative is the borrowing powers that a province or a federal government has. Maybe those borrowing powers should be entrenched in this so that the recognition of the nations and the tribes can make the borrowing powers and the credibility to secure those amounts, whatever amount they decide to borrow.
We were told by a speaker earlier this morning that it costs five to six times more for on reserve development. A lot of these communities are isolated, fly-in communities. Hon. members who represent the north know the reality of living there regardless of being on reserve or off reserve. Let us look at the Inuit in Nunavut. Not one permanent all weather road connects that territory, and their costs are 20 times higher than the costs in downtown Ottawa. It costs 20 times more to buy a piece of two-by-four to build their homes, not because they are aboriginal but because of the geographic reality of this country.
As a country we have to address this issue, and not on the finance or the mortgaging of the future of aboriginal children. Why should aboriginal people be paid for the high cost of existence in a country for infrastructure when this country collectively should take that responsibility? This country should be fair and equitable for development in downtown Toronto and also way up in Old Crow, in Inuvik, in Black Lake, and in Ahtahkakoop, a reserve in Saskatchewan.
I want to raise another issue. When the treaty negotiations took place with Treaty No. 6, one of the provisions was a medicine chest. A lot of people say that Tommy Douglas was the father of medicare, but let us correct that. The grandfathers of medicare were the chiefs of Treaty No. 6. They saw a public policy: that the riches of the land would take care of the children of the future. When they secured their treaty by the sacred pipes, they prayed to all four directions and all four races of this country and the nations of this land.
They were not looking at only the children of the Crees, the Dene and the Lakota. They were looking at all the children of this land, and the newcomers' children as well, the children of the settlers. That medicine chest should be afforded to everybody, but in no way did Treaty No. 6 negotiate that there would be land assessment at Ahtahkakoop. At that reserve if we go back and try to push a tax revenue law, I swear that those challenges will take us to the Supreme Court.
I will warn the House that although in the bill there may be an opt-in clause, I know that the opt-in clause is a political ploy. A while back it was used on us as parliamentarians on the issue of pensions. Pensions were “opt in” for certain members, but if we take a measure now of all the members in the House who have full pensions, all of us have signed on, even the ones who resisted. They were challenged on the point that it was an opting in issue. That is what is going to happen to the first nations of this land.
They may not join in. They may resist because of their obligations by treaty or for other reasons, perhaps because of the value of the land or because of their leadership and their vision. But at some point in time, they will be dragged into Bill C-23 and the reference to Bill C-23.
The other issue I raised before was that of consultation. I say that consultation should be with first nation leaders and first nation communities of this land. Proposed section 143 states that a review and evaluation of the bill will take place in seven years. A seven year parliamentary review will come into play. Upon reviewing the bill, the Indian affairs minister will be in consultation with the tax commission, the finance management board, the finance authority, and the statistical institute. Bill C-23 does not provide for any consultation at all with first nations and their communities. So seven years from now when the bill is reviewed, that review will be just a self-analysis of the institutes it has created.
Also, some hon. members have said that substantial amendments have been made to the bill. One of the most substantial amendments brought in by the minister was the inclusion of other aboriginal organizations and aboriginal groups under the statistical institute and the records and data it would keep. Under section 35 of the Constitution, the Inuit and Métis are the only other organizations. There are first nations and then Métis and Inuit. If we are going to have statistical information about the Inuit and Métis included, then why are they not part of the consultation after seven years?
Why can we not consult with the aboriginal groups if we are going to be using this data about them? The data, as pointed out, will be used for financial planning and financial management and reporting. It will not be used for cultural preservation, curriculum development, social analysis or economic comparisons among different communities. It will be specifically for the use and benefit of the financial institutions.
The “national aboriginal institutions” that would be created by the bill “will assist first nations that choose to exercise real property taxation jurisdiction on reserve lands”. That is the bottom line. It is open only to people in first nations who want to exercise real property taxation. It means that they are the ones who will be able to borrow money. That taxation will be for the provision of services, and there will be taxation of business activities happening on reserve. It will also impose development costs happening on reserve and provide laws respecting outstanding taxes. A tax revolt is taking place in Saskatchewan with regard to outstanding taxes. Outstanding taxes are a big part of a school board or of the collectible taxes of a municipal council of a rural municipality. There is also enforcement of charges for outstanding taxes.
This will also create liens. A lien is something foreign on a reserve. Tax liens and property liens are incredible tools that are being provided. They did not exist on reserve before now. Also, there will be interest and penalties. If someone does not pay their taxes, interest and penalties will be added on.
There also will be the powers of “seizure, forfeiture and assignment of interests or rights”. Along with seizure is the sale of personal property. If someone cannot pay their taxes, powers are included in the bill that would give someone the power to seize personal property for taxes they owe.
These are all new financial relationships and new fiscal powers that do not necessarily exist on reserves right now. There is going to be disparity about the value of land on different first nations reserves from northern Quebec, southern Quebec, northern Canada, B.C., and isolated communities. There will be different classes of first nations based on the value of their land.
Today I submit my support for the subamendment and the amendment. We should not pass the bill at this third reading stage. We should be consulting with first nations leaders and communities. Bill C-23, through the standing committee or through the government, should go back for consultation to set up a fiscal relationship that is equal and fair for all on reserve development in this country. My time has come to a close, but I welcome any questions members may have.
First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
May 10th, 2004 / 4 p.m.
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Churchill River for a very relevant question.
Let me start my answer by saying that the unilateral nature of this newly created tax commission is made even more problematic by the many up front restrictions on first nations' property taxation as contained in Bill C-23. I do not think many people realize that first nations will not be free to spend their tax revenue as they please in accordance with the bill. In fact, they will be forced to spend their money on local infrastructure and the like, thereby lightening the burden and obligation on INAC.
Therefore, using the money to fund a land claim against Canada would be unlawful, for example. They will not be allowed to use their revenue for what they choose. They will only be allowed to use it for a very narrow prescribed list of things which take the burden off the federal government and lighten its fiduciary obligation.
If they want to build a sewage treatment, they could go ahead, sign on to Bill C-23 and fund it themselves. They can borrow the money and use as equity their tax revenue if they in fact have any, although in Shamattawa, Pukatawagan, Paungassi, and half of the reserves in God's Lake Narrows and the places that I have been to, there is no tax revenue in any event.
To answer the hon. member's question more specifically, once the tax commission is up and running, it is likely that INAC as a matter of fiscal policy will put more and more pressure on most if not all bands across Canada to develop property taxation regimes. Communities that resist will eventually see their federal contributions reduced based on tax based estimates.
In other words, as INAC is looking at its annual budget for a reserve, if there is an untapped tax base revenue possibility, INAC will simply reduce the annual funding based on what the reserve could have been making had it signed on to this program and generated those revenues in that way. In the end, most first nations will come under the federally appointed tax commission one way or the other. Once again, optionality is a myth.
Subclause 13(1) was an amendment tabled by the minister that may seem to suggest that current property tax provisions in the Indian Act will continue to be available to communities that do not jump on the tax commission band wagon. However, it is obvious that if Bill C-23 is passed into law, the only game in town will be the new provisions associated with the tax commission.
It is delusional to think that communities will be permitted to operate for any length time under the Indian Act regime in relation to property taxation. All first nations interested in taxation regimes will be obligated, we predict, to fall under this new tax commission. Again, the optionality aspect is an absolute myth.
First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
May 10th, 2004 / 3:55 p.m.
Rick Laliberte Churchill River, SK
Mr. Speaker, I know that a lot of hon. members in the House have served not only in federal politics, in large part, but some have experienced provincial politics and some of us have experienced municipal local governments, and also school boards, health boards or library boards.
I raise this because I come from Saskatchewan which in large part is a have not province when we look at the transfer payments that come from the federal government. Equalization is a high priority for my province, but at present there is a huge debate on school taxes in the Province of Saskatchewan.
Farmers have huge tracts of land and it is assessed for local improvements in rural municipalities but a tax is also levied from school boards based on the assessments.
Basically, everybody knows that in the national debates of the sorry state of the agricultural community, that the family farm has been hit enormously by world trade, the price of fuel, energy and feed. There is now a tax revolt in the Province of Saskatchewan. It is based on school taxes. This is where Bill C-23 is heading.
I would like the hon. member to comment, perhaps share with the aboriginal leaders of the country, on the fact that the municipal type of tax collection on value of land may not be the perfect way of gaining social and economic certainty in the first nations. Perhaps there should be other models that should be investigated. That is why I think the amendment and subamendment would have Bill C-23 go through a consultation process with the first nation leaders and first nation communities equally.
Hon. members here who have school trustee experience will realize that certain communities are not assessed the same as other communities. In large part, a lot of our aboriginal communities are isolated. The property value of an isolated northern community is not the same as an urban reserve in southern Canada. This will create huge differences between definitions of reserves and the fiscal value of land of those reserves.
Could the hon. member speak about the issue of land taxes for local and school improvements, but also the huge disparity of the value of land all across the geographic regions of the country?