Evidence of meeting #40 for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was first.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Describe your experience there.

4:35 p.m.

Partner, Devlin Gailus Barristers and Solicitors

John Gailus

Certainly. This is mostly from my own personal experience and it's a little dated, but I still have a great deal of interaction with people who work at the department. Part of my practice is dealing with designations, leasing, and that sort of thing.

As I see it, there are two challenges there. One is that the complexity of the transactions going across a land management leasing officer's desk is getting greater. For those non-FNLMA first nations or self-governing first nations, you're getting potentially more complex transactions and there's a need to seek Department of Justice assistance. They're part and parcel of that. You have your DOJ lawyers, and then you have your lands managers dealing with these complex issues and not being able to deal with them oftentimes in a very timely manner.

That's a resourcing issue that I see in terms of transactions I'm doing for my clients, for instance. The turnaround time for me is in terms of weeks, versus the turnaround time for the department and for Justice, which is calculated in months. There's that opportunity which may be lost, given the delays that come out of that.

It oftentimes is a situation where this person is overworked and they have too many things on their plate, or it's the Justice lawyer. Sometimes it's hard to tell where the roadblock is, but it seems to me that there doesn't seem to be enough competent bodies to address these issues.

There's a fairly large turnover in the lands department. I might be dealing with a lands officer today and then the next day it's somebody new, and trying to get that person up to speed as best I can is often a challenge.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

To Mr. Le Dressay, when you talk about four to six times higher land development costs and the difference with structural land outside of reserves that is under municipal control, how close of a comparison can you make?

Are you talking about raw land outside of on-reserve land that you're completely servicing from square one? Is this what you're comparing in your cost structure?

4:40 p.m.

Director, Fiscal Realities Economists Ltd.

Dr. André Le Dressay

When we did the study, we actually looked at projects that were successful. We looked at developing a project, and the four areas we looked at were Sept-Îles, Siksika, which is outside of—I'm trying to remember the town in Alberta—Squamish, and Kamloops.

We looked at four successful first nation developments, and we looked at four successful developments in adjacent communities. We measured each stage of the development—the securing of the property right, the negotiation of the deal—all the way through. We measured each element and compared the cost, and it was four to six times longer and four to six times more expensive. Those are some of the best located first nation lands in Canada, so you can imagine how much higher the costs would be in other lands.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Was a great part of that the difference in cost in building infrastructure?

4:40 p.m.

Director, Fiscal Realities Economists Ltd.

Dr. André Le Dressay

In almost all of the cases it did involve some infrastructure, but a lot of the biggest cost was creating the property right certainty. Creating the certainty for investment was principally one of the major differences in cost, and it's because of that legal framework that's by and large missing on first nations.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you very much.

We're going to turn now to Mr. Rickford, for five minutes.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses.

I'm in a bit of a difficult situation here because I took some time to go through a lot of the work that all three of you have done, and when I realized I only had five minutes to ask questions I was in quite a state.

To that end, I would recommend to the analyst, given some of the important work all three of these gentlemen have done, that we consider them for the phase two part, because there's some important work—I say, rather selfishly—on some of the issues that you were scratching away at in a previous answer, Christopher, with respect to small communities and some of the inherent problems with capacity around economic development, whether it was on reserve or off reserve. I am particularly interested in the Ring of Fire and the communities that are involved in that development, and how that would fit with the work, and I'd be interested in your impressions.

So I'm just going to focus in the last couple of minutes here on ATRs because this has been coming up pretty consistently, and I think we can all agree that we'd like to see some changes. The Senate committee is taking a look at that. We haven't had a chance to appreciate that body of work.

I'm going to ask you a quick question, John, with respect to the three-week process, the fastest ATR known to mankind, perhaps. Could you briefly, in a minute or so, tell us, was there a test in there with respect to why and how that could be done in three weeks, or was this just simply some sort of prima facie situation that was dealt with speedily by the courts?

4:45 p.m.

Partner, Devlin Gailus Barristers and Solicitors

John Gailus

I think the case is called the Charles v. Semiahmoo case. That is the one where the land had been surrendered for a customs facility that was never built. So the Federal Court of Appeal made an order and the file landed on my desk and they said, get it done. Get the 14 or 16 signatures that we need to get an order in council on this within a month.

The judge was pretty clear. He said, I want to see you guys back here in a month and I want you guys to negotiate the compensation and these lands need to be turned into a reserve.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

And was there a test in there, John? As we, as lawyers, would traditionally pull out of any decision or process—

4:45 p.m.

Partner, Devlin Gailus Barristers and Solicitors

John Gailus

To be honest with you, there wasn't. The one advantage was that the lands were already held by the crown, the federal crown, so we didn't have to deal with the province. It was simply Public Works transferring the administration and control to INAC. There weren't the hoops around appraisals and surveys, and fortunately, there was a legal description that we could use to do it. So it was a fairly straightforward process.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

I'm going to spend some time with that another time. I just want to get to Dr. Le Dressay here, with two caveats. One, I've heard many mayors say that the problem with municipal legislation, particularly deriving from the province's authority, is that they become effectively wards of the province. We've heard that. So there's a little caveat there when we start to talk about comparisons, but I read with great interest “Comparing Municipal Boundary Expansion to Additions to Reserve”, a brief but precise document that identifies the fact that the MBE is a piece of legislation and so there is greater certainty, and in stark contrast, of course, ATRs are policy and therefore less clear. The criteria don't jump out at you. Tests are what lawyers would often look for.

On page 2 you lay out a best practice description. I'm really interested in this and I want to give you the opportunity to tell us today whether you think this has a broader application to ATRs, in relation to the federal government's responsibilities in ATRs, regardless of whether they're going to be for economic development—because we know sometimes ATRs are not. But is this a potential blueprint for us to look at more substantively as we, as a committee, try to come to some solutions on this particular point?

4:45 p.m.

Director, Fiscal Realities Economists Ltd.

Dr. André Le Dressay

Of course, I stand behind some of the best practices that we recommended, but as a committee, you also have to consider the following with respect to making the ATR process more like the MBE, to take some of the best practices out of the municipal boundary expansion situation. Of course, what makes the municipal boundary expansion situation simpler is that you're not changing jurisdiction. That's the fundamental sort of difference between the two. So how can you make that jurisdictional change as seamless as possible?

There are good practices in the municipal boundary expansion about doing good planning and making good communications and good public processes in order to make those who are affected by the change more comfortable. But there are also some legal aspects with respect to harmonization that would make those, who would provide legal advice to both the provincial and federal governments, much more comfortable as well, and I think there's a real opportunity there.

So I think that those best practices are only as effective as the legal framework that allows ATRs to happen, and of course, as you mentioned, it's principally policy-based.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you very much, Mr. Le Dressay.

We'll turn now to Ms. Hughes for five minutes.

June 12th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Hi, and thank you very much for your input.

I'm going to go in a bit of a different direction. I want to ask so many things, but I know I'm going to run out of time.

One of the things we have been discussing in the committee is the environmental gaps on reserve that subsequently lead to a lower standard of health and well-being of people living in the community.

Similarly we have noted that this was addressed in a report that was just released by a first nations institute on governance. The report found that nearly a quarter of all aboriginal adults are living in overcrowded dwellings and over 50% of adults are living in houses contaminated with mould and mildew. Over one-third of adults cannot trust the water that comes into their homes.

What impact does this have on the workforce and economic well-being in first nations communities, and what possible solutions to the health and environmental gaps existing on reserves would you recommend? Because it all does build into the economic development. As you know, if the infrastructure is not in place, no matter what the changes are, you're not going to be able to entice the positive changes we're looking for.