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

4:30 p.m.

Partner, Devlin Gailus Barristers and Solicitors

John Gailus

Not in 10 seconds.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Sure.

We'll turn to Mr. Clarke now, for five minutes.

June 12th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to thank the witnesses for coming. It's fabulous to have someone come here through video conferencing as well, to provide testimony to this committee.

One of the interesting things mentioned during one of the speeches was that the costs to first nations for economic development are four to six times more than for the non-aboriginal communities, and the challenges they have to face. In recent years several proposed changes have been enacted to the legal, political, and economic context of reserve lands through voluntary or opt-in legislation, such as the First Nations Land Management Act, designed to address the barriers in the Indian Act that impede economic development and investments on reserves.

How have these initiatives influenced the economic initiatives and opportunities for first nations people, collectively and individually? If one of you wants to take a shot at that, go ahead.

4:30 p.m.

Director, Fiscal Realities Economists Ltd.

Dr. André Le Dressay

I think that question is directed at me.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Yes.

4:30 p.m.

Director, Fiscal Realities Economists Ltd.

Dr. André Le Dressay

The First Nations Land Management Act, the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act, and the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act were all directed at that particular finding, that the costs of doing business on first nation lands are too high. The reason they're too high is that the legal, the administrative, and the infrastructure framework that exists off first nation lands isn't present. We have to find a way to help close that gap.

Yes, the FNLMA could be very effective in closing that gap. Some first nations have used it effectively to close that gap.

I suggested earlier that gap could be closed even more quickly if you had some of the legal framework that's available under FNLMA, if it were more of a turnkey approach, so that first nations didn't have to develop scores of laws. They could just have a lot of that legal framework in place for them and then make some good policy decisions to encourage development. That's one possible element of the FNLMA that might be improved.

The other thing I was mentioning earlier in terms of the cost of doing business is property right security. A lot of the high cost of doing business on first nation lands is a result of a lot of legal work in order to create as secure a property right as possible for investors. As I mentioned earlier, there's an opportunity to help reduce that particular constraint, as well, through the proposed property ownership act.

All of these things are voluntary and opt-in. It's critically important for first nations to have options, in order to have those options available to them, if it's their desire, to facilitate more investment.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

What factors affect the probability of first nations opting into these various regimes?

4:35 p.m.

Director, Fiscal Realities Economists Ltd.

Dr. André Le Dressay

Quite often it's opportunity. If there are economic opportunities and these regimes will help them realize those economic opportunities, the probability of their joining is much higher.

Sometimes there's an interest in the first nations to want to assert their jurisdiction, and they see these as an opportunity to assert their jurisdiction and to move beyond the Indian Act. You have those types of motivations for some first nations. But it ultimately comes down to leadership within those communities and community decisions.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Clarke Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

What factors may affect the economic development outcomes?

4:35 p.m.

Director, Fiscal Realities Economists Ltd.

Dr. André Le Dressay

The outcomes depend upon your ability to create a climate for investment, if your principal advantage is location. It depends upon what your comparative advantage is. If you're trying to develop your economy through resource development, then there's a different answer to that question. But if your principal advantage is location, then what influences the outcome is being able to create as much investor certainty—in order to take advantage of your location advantage—as compared with your neighbour, as exists in your region.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Mr. Devlin, I think you wanted to jump in there on one of those answers.

4:35 p.m.

Partner, Devlin Gailus Barristers and Solicitors

Christopher Devlin

I did. I wanted to say two things in response to those questions.

The first is this. One of the economic costs goes back to those legacy issues that I was just talking about. We have one client who adopted a first nation land management code and spent the last three or four years trying to deal with legacy issues but has not been able to really move forward because they're still dealing with issues and a real mess of legal interests on that reserve that were left over from Canada's administration.

Even if you have the law in place, even if you have the code in place, you still have legal interests that remain unresolved from the previous administration. That continues to impede the ability to move forward, even if you have a code in place or something else.

The second thing I would say is that another factor not widely perceived is that first nations have huge, varying degrees of size and capacity. You have some first nations with 5,000 to 10,000 members. They have a much better capacity for personnel and institutional frameworks for investment. But when you're talking about a community of 250 people, the number of adults who have sufficient education and who can even begin to be in a leadership role and understand the legal regimes that are in place is vastly diminished. There are simply only so many people who can run that community.

The economic opportunities might be there but for the fact that there are only three people or a handful of people in that community who have the capacity to do everything, from running the community to administering the housing to writing the laws. That can be a real inhibitor to unlocking economic potential—the size of the community—even if it has been blessed with geographic location. If you have only 250 people, there's not much to draw on.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you very much, Mr. Devlin.

Mr. Bevington, we'll turn to you now for five minutes.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to the witnesses.

I'm going to start off with Mr. Gailus. I want to explore your knowledge of the capacity within the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for land management, as you saw it from your history there. Is there sufficient capacity, personnel, within that department to effect the myriad of changes that are required—the third-party interests that are required to be analyzed for each land transaction?

4:35 p.m.

Partner, Devlin Gailus Barristers and Solicitors

John Gailus

The short answer is no.