House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

January 30th, 2003 / 10:15 a.m.

Edmonton West
Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan for the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved that Bill C-19, 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Vancouver Quadra
B.C.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Secretary of State (Western Economic Diversification) (Indian Affairs and Northern Development)

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House on second reading of Bill C-19, the first nations statistical and management act. I am pleased to be bringing such an important bill before the House at this time.

The proposed legislation is first nations initiated. Its development has been first nations led and the institutions it would create would be first nations controlled. At the same time, Bill C-19 is fully consistent with the government's Speech from the Throne commitments.

I believe hon. members on both sides of the House would agree we all want to improve the quality of life in first nations communities. Some progress has been made over the past 20 years, but we need to do much more and we need to do it now.

This drives all of the decisions and actions of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The status quo is not acceptable.

Whether we are talking about education, or economic development, about land claims, or governance, about housing, or social programs, we believe that improving the quality of life for first nations people must be a guiding principle for all that we do.

This principle is supported by the Prime Minister and hon. members on this side of the House. Aboriginal issues are at the forefront of our policy agenda, and we are committed to real and concrete change.

The fact of the matter is that the government is proposing fundamental changes in the relationship between Canada and first nations, changes that would help level the playing field for first nations governments and encourage investment in first nations communities.

We believe that in the long term addressing the concerns of first nations is not just a matter of money, but of greater control by first nations people over their own lives and their own communities.

Bill C-19 fits well with this approach. We have taken a number of steps over the past year to begin removing barriers to first nations economic progress, self-reliance and self-government so that first nations can play their full part in the life of this country.

For example, we have opened up the First Nations Land Management Act, designed so that first nations could opt out of the land management sections of the Indian Act. We are taking steps to make that possible for a larger number of first nations across the country.

First nations want greater freedom to manage their lands, natural resources and revenues in ways that work best for them. We agree that this is an important and necessary step toward self-government.

First nations need to be able to control their lands to attract investment, break the cycle of poverty, create hope and build better lives in stronger communities.

In addition, the government reinstated the proposed specific claims resolution act in the House in October. The current process for resolving specific claims tends to be adversarial, time consuming, costly and seen to favour government.

We need to replace it with one that is more efficient and more fair. Toward this end, the proposed specific claims resolution act would establish a new independent claims centre that would have two components, a commission to facilitate negotiations and a tribunal to resolve disputes. This would help us to avoid litigation, resolve claims and historic grievances more quickly, and remove an enormous barrier to economic development.

Also, in October the government reinstated the proposed first nations governance act, which would enable first nations to access the fundamental governance tools needed to pursue economic development and create healthy communities.

By restoring first nations decision-making authority and encouraging the development of first nations designed governance codes, the first nations governance act would shorten the distance to our ultimate goal and the goal of first nations, self government.

By strengthening the accountability of first nations governments it would improve conditions for economic and social development.

These three initiatives are building blocks for our new relationship with first nations people. The fourth pillar of Canada's strategy to work with first nations toward self-government and economic self-sufficiency is the legislation before us today, Bill C-19.

Under the Indian Act first nations communities were denied the powers that other governments in Canada take for granted, powers that help to build businesses, roads, water systems and communities. This bill would restore those powers.

Rather than wait for government, first nations leaders took it upon themselves to address these gaps in fiscal powers and institutional support. They have devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to developing this initiative.

Many months ago they turned to our government for support in establishing their legal foundation. This is particularly important as first nations seek to attract investors and business development.

This is the purpose of Bill C-19. The government recognizes the merits and importance of the proposed first nations fiscal and statistical management act. We have worked with first nations to formalize their proposals and now we are fulfilling our part by introducing the legislation to support their implementation.

I would like to quickly review the key elements of this proposed legislation. Once hon. members examine the goals and objectives of Bill C-19, I am confident that first nations and the government will receive their full support.

As a first step, the real property taxation powers of first nations will be removed from section 83 of the Indian Act and the proposed first nations fiscal and statistical management act, Bill C-19, will define these powers in much more detail than does the Indian Act.

It also features provisions for property assessment, rate setting and budget based expenditure systems that continue first nations provincial property tax harmony while reconciling the interests of first nation governments and those of their taxpayers.

Bill C-19 also provides for the evolution of the existing Indian taxation advisory board into the first nations tax commission. This body will assume what is currently part of the minister's role in approving the growing number of real property tax bylaws being developed by first nations across Canada.

Under Bill C-19 local ratepayers would be assured of a much larger role in policy development and an improved system for hearing appeals and resolving disputes than is currently the case.

This proposed legislation will also clarify certain borrowing powers of first nations and create a first nations finance authority. Through the work of this institution, first nations, like other local governments in Canada, will have access to bond markets to raise long term private capital to finance the construction of roads, sewers, water and other types of infrastructure.

I am pleased to advise hon. members that this first nations finance authority was originally modelled on the municipal finance authority of British Columbia, which has for 30 years had experience and a triple-A credit rating. The proposal has been endorsed by major bond underwriters and credit raters and is expected to raise $120 million in private capital over its first five years of operation.

The third fiscal institution that will be created by Bill C-19 is the first nations financial management board. Its role will be to enhance the financial management capacity of first nations by establishing financial standards, promoting capacity development and ensuring that the rigorous systems and assessment services are in place necessary to maintain the confidence of markets.

We are confident that many first nations, particularly the 90 or so that already have taxation systems in place, will be quick to opt into the borrowing regime and other services. Others may take more time and still others may decline this opportunity outright as participation in this new initiative will be completely optional.

Finally, Bill C-19 would provide for the establishment of the first nations statistical institute to fill the gap in reliable data and well-targeted analysis on first nations populations, economic growth and other matters. Good quality information is needed to support first nations decision making both at the national and local level.

Toward this end the statistical institute will work with first nations, federal departments, Statistics Canada and provincial statistical agencies to help first nations meet their information needs while at the same time building the shared data required to support effective first nations-Canada development activities.

As the House can see, each of these institutions, the tax commission, the finance authority, the financial management board and the first nations statistical institute, has a unique, independent and professional role. Together these institutions will provide the right tools needed to foster a business friendly environment, investor confidence, economic growth and sound governance.

The proposed Bill C-19 will help bring participating first nations into the economic mainstream by giving them the practical tools already used by other governments. It will help to ensure that first nation real property tax, financing, financial management and statistical systems are harmonized with those of other governments. It will provide better representation and more certainty for on-reserve ratepayers and a better return to the community as a whole from the tax dollars raised.

In the longer term the institutions that will be created by Bill C-19 will become the backbone for a first nations public service. Certainly they will support the practical work that needs to be done and assist first nations with a new way of doing business.

As I noted at the outset, the proposed first nations fiscal and statistical management act is a first nations solution. It was developed through the national table on fiscal relations, a body established three years ago as a consultative forum between the Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada. Our government has worked closely with first nations leaders in drafting Bill C-19. We have also shared the proposed legislation with first nations communities across Canada over the past few months and their feedback has helped strengthen the bill.

I am confident Bill C-19 will have the support of many first nations leaders and communities in Canada. Likewise, provinces have expressed the view that it opens the door for more co-operative efforts at the local and regional levels. Key players in Canada's financial markets, like the Royal Bank of Canada, Dominion Bond Rating Service and Moody's Investor Service, have also provided valuable input on the structure and operation of these institutions.

The proposed legislation responds in part to the Speech from the Throne commitment to work with aboriginal people to strengthen their business expertise, administrative practices and infrastructure.

I want to conclude my remarks with this thought. Economic development is the road ahead. This is the path that must be travelled by first nations to improve their quality of life. Many first nations have begun this journey but have encountered obstacles. We can help them to remove them. In order to seize control of their own economic future, first nations do not need to have their hands held but they cannot succeed with their hands tied.

These initiatives in the area of fiscal management are aimed at untying those hands. I would ask hon. members to keep that in mind and I know that this will help them realize that Bill C-19 deserves their support.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Pallister Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his comments. It is clear that all of us here share the goals of which the member has spoken. The goals of economic betterment for aboriginal people are clearly shared by all Canadians.

It has been my experience that even when people agree on a destination, they do not necessarily have to agree on the route to get to that destination. The problem of this suite of proposals under this legislation is that it reveals that the government is headed toward a destination on which we cannot agree.

Where it is headed is toward a Canada which has competing sovereign nations within it. Where it is headed is toward a nation that recognizes 100, or 200 or perhaps several hundred separate sovereign nations within it. Because it is headed in that direction and because it is headed down the route that takes it there, we have to take exception to that, even though we share the goals of which the member has spoken, very strongly in fact.

We would propose an alternate route. This is what I wish to speak a bit about today. We will be proposing a number of amendments to the legislation which we hope will cause the legislation to work effectively without dividing us as people in the country.

This suite of financial institutions will of course not be a panacea for the problems that affect aboriginal communities and aboriginal people across Canada. It really only affects about a dozen first nation communities across Canada. It is only in those dozen or so where the resource base is significant enough and strong enough that own source revenues are available to warrant the ability to borrow, to tax, et cetera.

It would be a wonderful thing to have all first nations communities in Canada able to lever their own resource base effectively and take on the responsibility of building their own infrastructure. However, that is not the reality for perhaps 600 of the first nations communities.

Let us not be misled here. This is not about bettering all aboriginal people. The broad general statements the member made in his comments of course are worthy goals. However the legislation does very little, if anything, to actually achieve those goals for the vast majority of aboriginal Canadians. It profoundly impacts perhaps very few. It is significant in the fact that it ignores the circumstance for most.

The Canadian Alliance has advanced and will continue to advance alternative proposals which will take us on the correct path to building a nation together, by addressing issues of inequality that are fundamental to the economic problems that aboriginal communities and individuals face and by addressing the inequalities of economic freedoms and rights that are a reality under the Indian Act and other pieces of legislation that exist today, which are archaic and perhaps one would describe them as relics of failed experiments of the past. Those should be discarded.

The equality for aboriginal people can best be achieved on a foundation of equal economic freedoms, equal rights and equal protection of those rights. We have and will continue to advance clear proposals which will restore those rights which aboriginal Canadians should enjoy to the equivalent level of all other Canadians. We will advance proposals to guarantee equal human rights as well. We will advance proposals to give equal commercial freedoms to aboriginal Canadians. These do not exist today. These differential rights create and perpetrate a myth and this legislation perpetrates the same myth that it is possible to have separate but equal institutions.

Civil rights leaders across the world have fought against that mistaken belief. I will recount, on August 28, 1963, a quarter of a million people gathered between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in the United States capital to demonstrate peacefully on behalf of the civil rights struggle. The high point of that day was when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his now famous speech, called upon Americans to work with faith that change would come and that some day all would be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. His soaring refrain of “I have a dream” still inspires not only the American conscience but the conscience of peoples around the world. His perseverance and his eloquence were rewarded.

The suite of separate institutions comes to this place not as a response to the frustrations of Canada's aboriginal people. It comes to us as a consequence of a desire to assert the power of cultural differences that have been suppressed throughout much of Canada's history.

The question that should concern all of us is whether the legislation actually assists Canada's aboriginal people and Canadians as a whole, to quote King, “raising from the dark and desolate valley of segregation”, or whether it is heading down the wrong path, a path away from unity, a path away from strength, a path away from the end of racial injustice, and a path away from the solid rock of brotherhood.

Like King, we have a dream and we believe most Canadian's share that dream, that despite the mistakes and the wrongdoings of the past, we can overcome the divisive militancy of the present as much as it is a natural response to the wrongdoings of the past and move beyond that and recognize that our freedoms are inextricably bound to the freedoms of all Canadians.

I dream of a time, just as King did, when aboriginal children, boys and girls, can join together with non-aboriginal children and walk together as brothers and sisters. I have a dream that can happen.

In taking the risk today in speaking against these well-sounding, well-meaning proposals by the government, I speak not out of fear. I speak in spite of the fear that my words will be misunderstood. I have little doubt, as Kipling said, “that my words will be taken by knaves to make a trap for fools”. Nonetheless, I speak them.

I have toured aboriginal communities, as have my colleagues. I have toured and visited reserve communities extensively. I have visited dozens of communities in the past year since being named the chief critic of this portfolio. I can tell the House that in many respects I know that aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians do live in separate worlds, and that is a tragedy. However there is growing overlap and if we nourish our commonalties then perhaps that can be a source of strength for us.

This area of aboriginal policy is considered by many to be dangerous territory. The number one piece of advice I have received since my appointment has been to be careful, which means be afraid, but I will not be afraid because it is not wise to have fear be one's master at any time. The fear of dealing with these issues, the temptation to avoid debates, the tension and sometimes bitter exchanges in this emotional policy area should be resisted at all costs. The fear of talking about the problems facing aboriginal people and our relationships is the most dangerous decision of all because it increases the likelihood of continued failure if it does not guarantee it.

We must not be afraid to disagree. We must not be afraid to agree either. We must avoid cynicism, although it is hard. We see a government that has been taking an approach to aboriginal policy that could be best described as ad hoc. It is loaded with contradictions. On the one hand, colonial, and on the other hand, fighting for separate sovereign status.

The proposal for a first nations governance act was brought to the House. It was the result of a continuation of the old style, top down, pre-ordained colonialistic approach of the past. It was full of good intentions and advanced in spite of its almost universal opposition among Canada's aboriginal people. Contrast that piece of legislation, which proposes to put a top down solution on all aboriginal communities and governments, to this piece of legislation, which places separate aboriginal ownership of four new fiscal institutions in the hands of aboriginal people. The purpose of one, to provide training, accounting and financial management; another to secure debt; another to establish taxation policy; and yet another to set up a separate statistical institution. Each of these proposals would give more control to aboriginal people to shape their social economic future, and that is a worthwhile goal and a goal we share.

However it is hard not to be cynical. We have followed a model in this country, up until recent years, for perhaps three decades, that was a miserable failure. If one can summarize the government's plan, it seems to be advancing that model to aboriginal people for duplication and replication. It is encouraging aboriginal communities to tax, borrow, account for and keep statistical records of their operations and aspects of their lives.

Taxing and borrowing has led to numerous, well-documented problems in this country. Passing on that power to aboriginal communities certainly has the potential for additional perverse outcomes. We have seen that in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, for example, where half our bands are under co-management or under third party management.

The challenges are very real and should not be made light of, yet the government does not seem to recognize those challenges.

Canada's Indian people remain at the negative extremes of all our social, economic and health indicators. They have the lowest per capita income, the highest rates of unemployment, the shortest life expectancy and a suicide rate among the young people that is six times the national average.

What aboriginal people want for their children is not hard to understand. They want a better standard of living, a better quality of life and equality of opportunity equal to other Canadians, yet this legislation, like other government legislation, fails to address the aboriginal people's reality and their goals.

We have and we will continue to advance proposals that we feel will be far more effective in empowering aboriginal Canadians. We believe that because our members have been so much in contact with aboriginal people, we have been listening and chronicling the real experiences of aboriginal Canadians, that we are very much in touch with the priorities of aboriginal Canadians.

A recent survey done by the government supports that. The government's own Department of Indian Affairs identified the major priorities of aboriginal people through an eco-survey which was released last year. The question was: Thinking about the issues facing Canada today, which one would you say the Government of Canada should focus on most? The answers were health care, education, social services, unemployment, the environment and so on.

Aboriginal self-government and aboriginal sovereignty struggles did not make the top 10. That does not surprise me because the members of aboriginal communities with whom I have spoken, on and off reserve, do not rank separate sovereign nationhood as a high priority. It is a low priority for them. The government's own study showed that, yet this suite of financial institutions plays to the agenda of a separate sovereign nationhood for aboriginal people. This concerns us.

The reality is that when aboriginal Canadians and leaders of aboriginal communities, whether on or off reserve, call for more resources for things like water infrastructure, educational programs or treaty resolutions, the government responds, as the minister did in committee just the other day when he said that there were very limited resources and that we should accept the fiscal realities of the modern age. That is quite true, but that being said, why then would we spend additional resources on these institutional structures when we could be addressing the real priorities of aboriginal Canadians? Why not build on the foundations of shared institutions, institutions we have created, that have capabilities, that we have invested in and have asked taxpayers to support, some for decades? Why not build on that foundation? Why start anew with separate, race based institutions?

Our concerns are clear. The Liberal government has failed to address the waste, the overlap and the duplication within its own bureaucracy. Just recently we saw a mammoth growth in the number of government employees being hired, most of them, 80%-plus, employed in the capital region. The government has focused here, not on the communities and not on where they would be in close contact with the people receiving the services.

The government again has shown its inability to deal with the overlap and waste that exists within its own departments. Certainly that is true with the 13 departments that deliver services of various kinds to aboriginal Canadians.

We are concerned that this bureaucratic waste diminishes and erodes the effects of tax dollars that should be allocated to aboriginal people in an effective way. We do not wish to support legislation which, if enacted, would further result in an expensive erosion of such resources or would result in a potential devolution of a government's obligations to other agencies without the assurance of long term commitments.

Duplication and a lack of long term commitments will guarantee that the hardships of Canada's aboriginal people, not only are not addressed by the legislation but could potentially be made worse.

We have a real opportunity, a rare circumstance, where choices can be made and choices must be made. The Canadian Alliance is concerned that if we simply drift into the future we will simply achieve the same results that we had in the past. Those results were the results of inertia.

We agree with the remark of the previous speaker that the status quo is not acceptable, but neither are ad hoc policies all over the map. That is not what Canada's aboriginal people deserve and not what Canadian taxpayers deserve. A directionless path risks repeating the failures of the past.

In the past, aboriginal peoples were marginalized. Now many aboriginal people are speaking out, and that is good. The real task is to better define interrelationships between Canada's aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, but to never lose sight of the fact that we are in this together, that we must foster a sense of commonality and a shared political community while at the same time respecting and recognizing that differences do exist. If we only focus on our differences, we will simply create indifferent strangers and these strangers will be indifferent to one another's well-being. That indifference is not something from which aboriginal people will benefit in the long term.

We need to recognize two fundamental requirements for aboriginal policy. First, we need to be sensitive to the fact that aboriginal people's history has set them apart and has, I believe, created different degrees of consciousness toward the Canadian national identity. Some degree of self-governing power is essential in order to recognize that reality, but we need to recognize that aboriginal people's future does not lie outside of Canada.

As much as some, both within the government and within the leadership of the aboriginal community, increasingly seem to be pushing the agenda that aboriginal people want out, that stands in stark contrast to those who have fought for equality, civil rights and civil liberties around the world. Martin Luther King's struggle was to get American Negro people in; not out, but in.

Nonetheless, it is important to remember, in spite of that multi-advocacy, that the future of aboriginal peoples lies within the Canadian state and that total independence and separate sovereign nationhood is not a realistic goal.

Therefore the right policies have to include some concept of our shared citizenship. Creating a third order of aboriginal government does not itself deal with our shared citizenship. The task is to encourage an understanding that we are not divided entities, that some can be aboriginal and Canadian at the same time. The old approach was assimilation, and that was wrong. The new approach is parallelism, and that is equally wrong. Both approaches will fail.

The assimilationist paradigm focused on a standardized citizen but it had no sympathy for any positive recognition of aboriginal people. Differences were to be overcome. We were homogenous. Policies, such as Indian reserves and Indian residential schools, were designed to keep aboriginal people outside until they could be assimilated. We know today that those policies were horribly counterproductive.

However the emerging paradigm, which the government at times seems to embrace, is called parallelism. It shows some sensitivity to aboriginal people but it pays little attention to what we share, to what holds us together and to what prevents us from being strangers.

By establishing separate institutions, the government seems to be respectful and compassionate, but what it is doing is it establishing parallel, duplicitous bureaucracies which perpetuate our differences.

It creates an image of a railway track in my mind. When I was a boy I stood on the railway track that ran through our farm and I imagined that down in the distance those lines came together at some point, but they did not. The ties were not ties to bind, they were ties to keep those rails distant and apart. If we embrace this model I think we fail to recognize what is the best hope for aboriginal Canadians.

Perhaps the image of compassion is one the government would like to project but there is nothing compassionate about separation. If we cannot accept it for Quebec as a sovereign nation, why would we expect that Canadians would accept the model of 600-plus separate sovereign Indian nations?

The danger in parallelism is that it has very little to offer Canadians of non-aboriginal descent and very little to offer the growing urban aboriginal population. Parallelism does not address the reality of the fact that we intermingle, that we are together and that we are interdependent. Parallelism makes us separate. Such is less the case today than it has ever been since the formation of this country.

The advocates for parallelism are biased toward strong recognition of aboriginal difference. In fact they are promoters of aboriginal difference. They are not trying to break in to Canadian society; they are trying to break out. This rhetoric has dangers because the strategic requirements for breaking out are the reverse of the requirements for breaking in, for becoming a Canadian citizen with equal rights and equal responsibilities. If we want those equal rights we can do what Martin Luther King did and talk about common goals and common membership, and shared institutions, not separate ones.

The words of the bill would argue that these four institutions simply provide services available to other non-aboriginal communities, that surely, municipalities tax and provincial governments borrow, that there are accounting and financial management training facilities available for non-aboriginal governments and we of course have Statistics Canada, so therefore it should follow that these same services should be available to aboriginal governments. But of course the price we pay when we set up separate aboriginal institutions is that we emphasize the very differences that were at the heart of the concerns that anti-segregationists such as Martin Luther King fought against. The danger of establishing separate institutions is simply that we perpetuate our separateness.

Neither the assimilationist paradigm nor the parallelism paradigm is capable of handling difference and similarity simultaneously, and that is the problem. Neither of them is an adequate recipe for a future order, an order that must recognize and respect differences but also be able to recognize and reinforce similarities.

The assimilationists say to aboriginal people that they can become full members of Canadian society only if they stop being aboriginal. The parallelism advocates say to non-aboriginal Canadians that they cannot expect to share a sense of citizenship with aboriginal people, that they are different from aboriginal people, that they are not travelling together. Both are wrong. We can no longer deny our differences, but if that is all we have and if we are unable or unwilling to try to transcend those differences we have no reason or basis to reconstruct a common country. There is the confusion, because the reality is that there are many values that are shared by non-aboriginal society and aboriginal society.

The reality is that the differences between our values are declining and that there is more commonalty in our value systems now than there ever has been. There is probably more plurality among aboriginal cultures than there is between aboriginal cultures and non-aboriginal cultures, in fact. In a 1992 study the overall out-marriage rate for status Indians was 34%. For off reserve status Indians this figure was over 60%.

These marriage rates suggest a pretty high level of cultural exchange between Canadian non-aboriginal and aboriginal people and they certainly weaken the assertion that it is impossible, that there is an impossible cultural degree of difference between us for us to overcome. In a way it is ironic that many years ago, when aboriginal and non-aboriginal differences were arguably considerably higher, there was more of a call to come together for commonalty of purpose than there is today when those differences are small.

The clear preference among most aboriginal communities I have visited and among members of those communities I have spoken with is that they want to develop as aboriginal people but they want to at the same time integrate with and work within the larger Canadian society. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Is the bill going to assist us in that larger task?

Our challenge is to strike a balance, a balance between the sensitivity we all feel for aboriginal differences but the equal concern we have for the cohesion of a greater Canadian community. If we mistakenly believe that by setting aboriginal people apart, whether it is by establishing separate institutions that duplicate the work already being done by national institutions or through some other method, if we believe that by doing this we are accomplishing something positive in the sense that we are supporting and recognizing aboriginal people, we do risk a perverse outcome. We may find that such initiatives will be counterproductive if they are not accompanied by or do not lead to a sense of Canadian solidarity based on shared and equally valued citizenship. We are not there yet, but that is where we need to be.

The legislation would establish a tax commission to formalize taxation policy for aboriginal bands, but let us not portray this as a panacea for all that ails aboriginal communities. Very few bands have tax regimes in place and most of them are designed to tax non-band members. Very few bands have escaped from the reality of dependency on transfer support from the federal government. The reality of ongoing partnerships with other levels of government will continue to be, to varying degrees, the reality for the vast majority of Canada's aboriginal communities.

Let us not ignore also the reality of smallness. Approximately a third of Canada's 600-plus first nations communities have populations of 100 or less, with 80% having less than 2,000. To set up bureaucracies and bureaucratic structures that compete with one another, battling bureaucracies, as is proposed under the government's other legislation, the first nations governance act, for example, is totally ineffective and totally cost ineffective as well.

The bill does not address the needs of the vast majority of Canada's first nations communities. Our proposal will address the needs of those aboriginal citizens in the communities and off reserve.

We do not want to see increased borrowing ability used as a means by the federal government to in any way escape its responsibilities to aboriginal communities in terms of infrastructure investment on reserves. In particular, the Canadian Alliance is concerned about water quality and water and sewer services in aboriginal communities. We need to fully understand what the consequences are of the federal government's future obligations should this legislation go forward and should bands make the decision, as a few may be able to do, to issue bonds and to borrow for the benefit of their own investment and their own infrastructure.

Certainly the vast majority of aboriginal leaders I have had the privilege of meeting have a full understanding and desire not only to be accountable but to be seen as being accountable. Yet is true that accounting skills and methods vary, and so the financial management board has the potential to assist, if properly structured, in facing the challenge of more accurate, consistent and transparent documentation of first nations expenditures practice. However, each of these institutions has within it, if not properly structured, the danger of duplication, waste and overlap, so we will be advancing amendments to ensure that accountable practices in each of these institutions maximize the benefits to aboriginal people while at the same time achieving effective use of all taxpayer dollars. This is in the best interests of all Canadians.

It is the scattered use of taxpayer dollars that causes us to ask the question, why a separate first nations statistical institute? The backgrounder and business plan summary for the statistical institute talks about producing first nations friendly statistics and promoting a first nations agenda, which raises a question not only about the reliability of such agenda based statistical evidence but also about the degree to which it could possibly influence anyone.

Certainly Canadians now pay over $600 million a year for Statistics Canada. Can we not work together as Canadians to achieve our shared goals within a cooperative institution of that magnitude, with that degree of corporate memory, with that degree of respect around the world for its capabilities? Can we not possibly work together to use the services of that statistical service for the benefit of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians? Certainly the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples suggested that it was possible. That was the recommendation it made.

On one hand, I can understand the frustration of aboriginal people who, for example, when the Assembly of First Nations raised its concerns about the first nations governance act, saw the minister cut its funding by 53%. I can understand them being frustrated. The Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs clearly was not pleased with first nations opposition to the imposition of his wrong-headed first nations governance act, so I can understand that there might be a natural desire to see separate first nations institutions established to make sure that such control is in the hands of someone other than the minister. However, at the same time these agencies will all be funded by the taxpayers of Canada, so therefore it would seem to me that the accountability mechanisms would still have to be in place.

We have to make sure on behalf of all Canadians that we manage resources that have a cost benefit. If that benefit is not there, then that expense is unjustified. So I ask the question, then, could these funds not be better used in addressing the high priority problems of aboriginal Canadians in health care, in water quality, in advancing education and in resolving more treaties and outstanding claims? Perhaps we could provide more resources to those genuinely in need rather than establishing more bureaucracies to compete with other bureaucracies to compete with other bureaucracies. Funding battling bureaucracies is not helping the situation for aboriginal people who live in poverty in our country.

We are concerned that though we understand aboriginal people once inhabited this land in relative isolation, they and we now co-exist in a complex system with people who have come here from all over the world. As tempting as it might be to try to simplify that system, to set up parallel institutional models that perpetuate the separation between people who increasingly share common goals and common aspirations, it is a bad road to follow. What we need to do instead is follow the road that links us. Perhaps we can find that link better by making our existing institutions function more effectively than we can by hiving off separate ones under aboriginal control.

We cannot thwart self-government aspirations, nor would we, but at the same time we must expect aboriginal people to invest in common enterprises only if we do and, reciprocally, the willingness of non-aboriginal majorities to provide the assistance, financial or otherwise, that self-government will be requiring. If we do not build such an environment where non-aboriginal Canadians feel they are in a genuine partnership, a shared relationship with aboriginal Canadians, how can self-government be anything more than form? And form more than substance is not the goal that aboriginal Canadians have for their own self-government structures.

We cannot think of one another as strangers. The practical task that we have is to enhance the compatibility between aboriginal nationhood and Canadian citizenship. That is the dream of the Canadian Alliance and I believe that is the dream of Canada's aboriginal people and most Canadians. Therefore I move the following amendment:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

Bill C-19, 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, be not now read a second time but that the Order be discharged, the Bill withdrawn and the subject matter thereof referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources.

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11 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the amendment receivable.

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11:05 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add the point of view of the New Democratic Party regarding Bill C-19.

I begin by saying that we really cannot address Bill C-19 in isolation. It forms part of a suite of bills that have been introduced lately to amend the Indian Act and which are now being dealt with by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources. They are Bill C-6, Bill C-7 and now Bill C-19, all of which really are interrelated and form a package to address certain problems with the Indian Act which, in the minister's opinion, have priority.

I should point out that this opinion is not shared by the leadership of the aboriginal community, by the Assembly of First Nations and by the legitimately elected leadership of first nations in this country. In fact in garnering support for this package of reforms to the Indian Act, the minister has had to go to extraordinary measures, some would say heavy-handed and even bullying measures, to try to solicit support. This has been done by either punishing those who would not co-operate with the amendments, who felt that they were not the priorities that needed to be dealt with and by rewarding those who were willing to participate in consultations and development of the bills, even though many of them have expressed reservations about the misguided prioritization of the minister. We have really seen financial and political retribution used as an instrument by the government to try to sell this reform package to the Indian Act.

I would also like to preface my remarks by saying it was galling for me to listen to the previous speaker from the Canadian Alliance citing Martin Luther King in a very romantic and grandiose style. In my opinion, the Canadian Alliance and the former Reform Party lost their right to quote Martin Luther King when they hired the Heritage Front to be their security at their conventions, et cetera. They certainly have no moral authority on this subject to quote the Reverend Martin Luther King.

I sat in this House while the Canadian Alliance launched a campaign to stop the Nisga'a people from achieving self-governance. It was a comprehensive and longstanding, vicious, bitter campaign to try to withhold that first nation from achieving independence.

They also lost the moral authority when they sent one of their staffers, Greg Hollingsworth, to British Columbia to establish the organization Foundation for Individual Rights and Equality. It sounds like a reasonable organization except it is the anti-Indian movement of British Columbia. The movement has been pulled together by citizens groups who are vehemently opposed to any form of self-governance for aboriginal people. It is a racist organization. It is an anti-Indian organization. Unfortunately, that poison has spread to Ontario now in an equally vile organization called On FIRE.

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11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Since the things the member is saying are not true, they malign other members of Parliament. That is against the rules of Parliament and I would ask the Chair to caution the member.

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11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Allow me to say that the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre did not attack any individual member of the Alliance personally, but was referring to organizations that may or may not have worked for the Alliance.

I agree with the member for Elk Island to a certain extent and would also like the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre to be cautious, to say the least.

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11:05 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Foundation for Individual Rights was established in B.C. by Greg Hollingsworth, the staff representative of the member from Okanagan who left his job on the Hill to go to British Columbia to set up this racist organization. It is well known to have links with the Heritage Front. It can be seen from FIRE's website that it has a direct link to the Heritage Front which no one can argue is the racist, white supremacist neo-Nazi organization in this country.There are direct links, so I am not making any comment on the Canadian Alliance party directly or the member of Parliament who used to employ Greg Hollingsworth. I am simply pointing out that there is a connection that one cannot deny.

More specifically, we can look to comments from previous critics on aboriginal affairs from the Reform Party. I do remember the famous quote by a former member of Parliament, the Reform Party critic for aboriginal affairs, who said that living on an Indian reserve was like living on a south sea island and being supported by one's rich uncle. That is a statement from the Hansard of this place. I only point it out to say what a contrast it is for me to hear the current critic for aboriginal affairs trying to sell the Canadian Alliance as being committed to the best interests of the aboriginal people when the track record of that party is so shameful on this subject.

The current member for Athabasca made the comment that just because we did not have the defeat of aboriginal people in Indian wars in this country like they did in the United States does not mean that they are not vanquished people. Otherwise, as he mentioned, why would they be living on those God forsaken reserves if they were not vanquished to those reserves.

It is that Eurocentric mindset that has become associated with the Canadian Alliance. When we dig a little deeper into the speech that we just heard from the current aboriginal affairs critic, the member from Portage--La Prairie, we can see that he really is opposed to the idea of self-governance. He really is opposed to moving forward with the true moves that might lead to the self-determination. He is more committed to the assimilation model that we saw either in the 1969 white paper, which really spawned a generation of activism among aboriginal people, or this current suite of legislation.

I think that they will really be able to embrace what we believe is the underlying tone of this current suite of legislation, which is to see through to its final end the initiative that was in the 1969 white paper. The current minister seems so committed to ramming it through, even though he is meeting stiff opposition at every turn with the legitimately elected leadership of the Assembly of First Nations right across the country.

The standing committee on aboriginal affairs is currently listening to witnesses coming before it on Bill C-7, the first nations governance act. We cannot talk about Bill C-19 in isolation because it certainly constitutes a key and integral part of the suite of bills that constitutes a package which, as I say, is meeting strong resistance across the country.

One of the problems, other than the top down imposition of this legislation that is being cited by the leadership of the assembly and one of the underlying apprehensions that the leadership has is that it leads to the municipalization of first nations. It contemplates a third level of government that is comparable to the incorporation of a municipality.

There was a witness before the standing committee yesterday who is an authority on this subject and has researched examples in the United States where this led to great difficulties. A first nations community incorporated essentially as a municipality would then of course have the power to borrow money on the open market because it would then be identified as a legal entity.

That sounds all very well and good except for, let us say, if a community borrowed $10 million to build a sewage and water treatment plant and somehow defaulted on the loan. The equity it used for that loan may have been its own land base. The fear is the gradual erosion and deterioration of the historic land base of the aboriginal communities and the inherent risk in that measure.

This is one of the things that has been cited as a major concern regarding not just Bill C-19, the institutions we are dealing with today, but again the entire package.

Two days ago we also heard Matthew Coon Come, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, comment on Bill C-7 but he did not limit his remarks to Bill C-7. He spoke very broadly again of the inherent risks of this general package. He pointed out a number of the concerns regarding specifically the first nations fiscal and statistical management act. In the form of questions and answers, I would like to deal with some of the questions that have been dealt with at the national assemblies of the Assembly of First Nations when this subject has come up.

There are some misconceptions that they would like addressed and made clear in the House. I am glad the minister is here to hear them.

Some people would ask whether the proposed fiscal institutions act already has been approved by the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations. To listen to some people speak, one would think that were true, but the answer is no.

What the chiefs originally approved and what they are interested in talking about is the development of new fiscal arrangements with Canada, nation to nation negotiations between first nations and the Government of Canada. Unfortunately we are further away from that than we ever have been before. The heavy-handed tactics of the current minister of aboriginal affairs have so alienated, so offended and so upset the leadership that I would say that relations have been set back 50 years in terms of true negotiations on a nation to nation basis that they contemplate.

The chiefs' committee that was formed, the Implementation Committee on the Protection of Treaty and Inherent Rights, and which concentrated on this issue, made it very clear that they needed to deal with this in a detailed way and with the fullness of time, so it was not approved. In fact the contents of the bill were not known by them until August 2002. When dealing with sweeping reform to a complex act like the Indian Act, that is not a great deal of time.

I attended the Halifax assembly of the Assembly of First Nations in 2001 where there was a misconception that there was broad interest and acceptance of this fiscal institutions bill. The support for the bill was not established at that convention. It was put off until the Ottawa assembly on November 20, 2002. I have the resolution from that assembly here and I will enter it into the record at a later moment.

Here is one of the key concerns, one of the common themes, throughout the three pieces of legislation that constitute this suite of bills. Does the proposed bill guarantee first nations that it will not diminish or change treaties, aboriginal rights or the federal government's fiduciary responsibilities? That is a key and paramount question. The fact is no, there is no guarantee in this package because there is no non-derogation clause.

Those of us who have been dealing with legislation as it pertains to aboriginal people in recent years know that every piece of legislation dealing with aboriginal people must contain, and there was agreement on both sides that there would be present, a non-derogation clause to assure the parties that nothing in the bill would diminish or derogate existing rights. The very absence of a non-derogation clause in this bill, in Bill C-7 and in Bill C-6 leads us to believe that there is a strategy here, a systematic effort to diminish and erode established current treaty rights or the federal government's fiduciary responsibility.

Adding to and fueling that fear of the absence of a non-derogation clause was the fact that the First Nations Land Management Act that passed in the last Parliament was the first time we noticed this trend. There was an attempt on the part of government to alter the wording in the non-derogation clause. It was not bold enough to eliminate it altogether because that would be seen as a flash point and people would notice what was going on. However it did attempt to alter it. We raised it in the debate at that time. After years of consistent, common language in a non-derogation clause, why was the government seeking to alter the language? We choose our language very carefully in legislation. There had to be some motivation or reason why the government would seek to alter it. That was the first hint.

We now learn that the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs in the Senate is dealing with an omnibus bill that will delete completely the non-derogation clause from all pieces of legislation as it pertains to aboriginal people and instead assume that such a non-derogation intent is deemed to be a part of every bill.

Why would we take that positive, proactive step to diminish the very clause that gives comfort to those people on whose behalf we are passing legislation?

I have proposed language here that would not only satisfy those who are concerned about a non-derogation clause. It actually enhances the existing non-derogation clause. I would be happy to read that into the record at a later time.

How can we blame people for being apprehensive or suspicious of the motivation of government when it takes the active step to delete the non-derogation clause?

This is a question that I have addressed. Some people assume that the fiscal institutions act stands separate and alone from the minister's governance act. I have made it clear that none of these bills can be dealt with in isolation. They are integrally linked as a package and they are not the package with which aboriginal people want to be dealt.

I should perhaps back up for a moment and make it abundantly clear that I do not think there is a political party in the House of Commons that believes the status quo is acceptable and believes the Indian Act should not be substantially amended with the goal of ultimately eliminating it. We have heard the minister himself indicate that the ultimate goal is the elimination of the Indian Act because it is an evil document. It is a document that has been responsible for 130 years of social tragedy. It is incumbent on all of us to do everything we can to find an alternative way of relating to first nations people and allowing them their self-determination and self-governance.

None of the issues dealt with in the first nations governance suite of legislation deals with the fundamental problems, the urgent, pressing social problems facing aboriginal people today. When there was a round of consultation to supposedly get input from aboriginal people, those people who showed up at those meetings did not show up to talk about accounting practices or whether their audits were directed to this person or that person. They showed up to talk about health care, housing, clean water on their reserves and education. They wanted to talk about basic needs, which are so lacking in these communities. Instead, the minister in his wisdom, decided to address administrative details and tinkering with a flawed Indian Act instead of going at issues of substance that would have meaningful impact on the lives of aboriginal people.

I link it to the Canadian Alliance. I link the whole package with which we are dealing and its skewed priorities to the fact that for two years straight the Canadian Alliance launched a campaign to try to link together isolated incidents of financial problems on certain aboriginal reserves into a common theme that aboriginal communities were corrupt, or incompetent or both, and it tried to sell this package. I had to sit as a member in the House of Commons and listen day after day as Alliance members scoured the countryside until they found some misuse of funds or some band council that failed to submit its audit on time. They would stand up as if this was outrageous, that all aboriginal communities were corrupt, that we had to do something to clean up this terrible thing and that we were flushing billions of dollars down the drain and wasting it on aboriginal people who were squandering it and misspending their money. It was not based on fact.

As a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources we get the facts. We know that 96% of all first nations communities, of which there are 633 first nations, submit their audits on time, keep their bookkeeping in accordance with the Indian Act, post those audits so that all band members can see them and have no problem whatsoever at managing their funds.

This is the first time we have opened the Indian Act for 50 years. Why are we dealing with issues of financial accountability and how people elect their officers when those are not the priorities with which aboriginal people want dealt? Because we have been sold a bill of goods and the public has been pulled around and led by the nose by this campaign on the part of the Canadian Alliance to try to convince people that aboriginal people are unaccountable or not transparent in their financial dealings. ay, It simply is not true and is not based on fact.

We are disappointed to be standing here. When the minister presented this to the standing committee on Monday, I made it clear to the him that as the member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre, with the highest aboriginal off reserve population in the country, many of them concentrated in my core area riding, that there was nothing that would make me more pleased, in what short time I have as a member of Parliament, than to deal with meaningful amendments to this fundamental evil that we knew as the Indian Act. I would love to enthusiastically support amendments to the Indian Act. It would be very satisfying for me on a personal level and on a professional level because I owe it to the people that I represent.

Unfortunately, we are not being given the opportunity to address meaningful amendments. We will be tinkering with a flawed document. This is not a step toward social justice. This is administrative tinkering and administrative details that are not based on fact.

When people went to the consultations across the country, they did not show up to complain about how they elected their band council. They did not show up to complain about their accounting practices or their auditing practices. They came out to express the desperation and the desperate, abject poverty under which they lived and they wanted a meaningful change to their lives. I am disappointed to have to use this speech to address bills that I do not think are of great consequence.

There are misunderstandings about this bill, the financial institutions act. Some people think that the fiscal institutions act will be optional. In fact, the proposed bill does not state that it will be optional, that first nations communities can opt in or out. Neither is there any protection for a first nation against being forced into the act.

The other bills that are a part of this suite have these default positions. People can choose to change the way officers are elected and the way bookkeeping records are kept. If people do not choose to do so in compliance with the standards that are set out, these standards will be foisted upon people, imposed upon their communities. It is not much of a choice. We can say it is optional but if they do not opt to do it in two years, it is imposed upon them anyway. I do not know who would understand that as being truly optional.

The fiscal institutions act could, for example, be made a condition of a funding arrangement that a deduction would be made if a first nation did not acquire its own source of revenues through taxation under the proposed bill. In other words, if a band has the ability and the opportunity to impose its own taxation regime within its community and it chooses not to for whatever reason or fails to implement it, there could be deductions dollar for dollar in the revenue streams in the current fiscal relationship from the federal government to the community. This is certainly one of the reservations that has been raised.

I should also point out, and the previous speaker did mention quite rightly, that many first nations communities are 100 or 150 people. They are already over-audited and over-bureaucratized. This will be a further level of bureaucracy, a further level of financial expertise that, without a lot of training and resources allocated to them, a lot of first nations communities would find it really difficult to avail themselves of these new fiscal institutions. When the Auditor General came before our standing committee just the other day, she made the point quite rightly that, if anything, first nations communities are over-audited.

A first nations community has to file approximately 168 forms per year to keep the revenue stream coming from the four or five different federal agencies that provide funding to a community. The Auditor General recommended streamlining these things so as not to put such an onerous task on first nations communities. There is so much room for error in there. No wonder the Canadian Alliance could find cases where papers were not filed on time or people were in arrears filing their documentation. Over three official documents have to be filled out correctly and submitted every week to add up to 168 per year. With the new provisions of Bill C-7, the first nations governance act, there will be more accounting and it will become more onerous.

The Auditor General of Canada commented that first nations communities were over-audited as it was. The real problem lied with the lack of accountability of those who accumulated the data and did nothing meaningful with it. They were supposed to jump through hoops every week and submit these forms into this vortex that was the bureaucracy of INAC and DIAND. Those were her observations and her criticism, and we share that view.

A common question that is asked of people dealing with this fiscal institutions act is whether first nations will be able to handle their own revenues as an inherent right even if they do not opt in to any of these institutions. No. By our understanding, if the proposed bill becomes law, it will mean that Parliament intends the inherent right of self-government not to include the collection and management of first nations revenue.

Is this not an infringement or a derogation of the status that aboriginal people enjoy today? Perhaps that is why the government had to eliminate the non-derogation clause. Perhaps that is why the government and its advisers felt that, in all good conscience, they would have to eliminate it or they would be subject to a challenge even if a non-derogation clause was part of the preamble of the legislation and then they made this fundamental change to take the inherent right away from them. Even if it is one minor detail of an inherent right, it is the diminishment of an inherent treaty right.

When the national implementation committee on the protection of treaty inherent rights, a standing committee of the Assembly of First Nations, dealt with this, to its credit and with its reduced staff and resources, it identified this as a serious concern.

I referred earlier to the heavy-handed punitive retribution that comes down from the minister to any organization that will not fall into line with his view of the priorities and amendments to the Indian Act. The Assembly of First Nations has suffered the worst. The minister cut its funding by 50% because it would not play ball and would not hop on the bandwagon with this legislation. At the very time it was facing the most complex and detailed amendments to the Indian Act in 50 years, the minister cut its funding by 50%. This forced the assembly to lay off 70 to 80 researchers and staff who were authorities on this subject. This is like sending a person to court and denying them legal counsel.

This one bill alone is a thick document. It is an overwhelming amount of legalese. At the very time first nations need to defend themselves or at least represent themselves adequately in the face of this bombardment of legislation, the minister has undermined its ability to do so substantially by cutting its budget and forcing it to reduce its staff by 70 people. It is to the credit of the Assembly of First Nations that it can still do its research to defend the interests of the people it represents.

Can a first nation opt into one institution and not another within the fiscal institutions act? The answer again is no. The proposed institutions are interlocking. Each one functions in conjunction with the others. For instance, the statistics institute collects data about a first nation for the use of the other institutes.

A first nation cannot borrow money from the finance authority without the consent of the tax commission and a certificate of good management from the management board. In other words, it is a whole package deal. It is all or nothing, so first nation communities could not avail themselves of one of these, set up a board and establish one and not the other because they cannot operate in an independent way.

It makes us wonder how a small first nation community could do this. We are not dealing with municipalities in the Eurocentric western sense. We are dealing with a small village of 100 people or dealing with a place, as in the case of Buffalo Point, where there are 12 residents who live on the reserve and another 100 who live off the reserve, and only have their input by virtue of the Corbiere decision to be able to participate. How does the new fiscal institutions act benefit them in any way? Where would they get the administrative capacity to establish and operate these complex legal institutions?

It is mind boggling to me and it certainly must be to the many people to whom this is happening. I say “to whom this is happening” because it is being imposed in a top down manner. It is the House of Commons of Canada that will change the way aboriginal people live, not the input of aboriginal people who are deciding how they should establish and conduct their own affairs.

It begs the question then, with all these new institutions in place, will at least a first nation be free to pass bylaws and laws of its own choice? The answer again is, no. A first nation would not be able to pass certain kinds of laws and bylaws without obtaining the approval of the proposed tax commission. Band councils would see their authority diminished and relegated to the establishment of some of these new commissions.

I should also point out that it has been a recurring theme throughout this whole suite of legislation, Bills C-6, C-7 and now C-19, that the discretionary authority of the minister, instead of being diminished, would actually be enhanced. It is a pattern, a theme, of which I have been taking note ever since I came to Ottawa five years ago. Virtually every piece of legislation we come across actually enhances the discretionary authority of the minister and diminishes the authority of the executive or of Parliament. We are critical of that.

It is not a realistic and legitimate step toward self-governance and independence. If anything, Parliament and DIND would still have an active role to play in all the real decision making. It is like the joke we used to hear in the lunchrooms of warehouses and workplaces. We might get to decide what colour to paint the lunchroom, but the boss will still decide the speed of the assembly line. That is a good analogy here.

With the new institutions in place, will the first nations be able to pass bylaws regarding licences and other locally raised revenues without getting approval? In other words, as it is hoped that we would be passing over more control over natural resources et cetera to first nations communities, would they then, in a hypothetical situation, be able to pass bylaws regarding licences without getting the approval of the new commissions?

No, first nations laws regarding the collection and expenditure of revenue, especially where non-Indians may be involved--an American tourist who may want to fish on a lake in a community--would not be able to make that choice without the approval of the proposed tax commission whose members are not elected by the band council. The members of the tax commission would be appointed by the minister or by Indian Affairs, but essentially by the minister.

This opens the door for a whole raft of jobs. There would be a board, a commissioner and a bureaucracy set up. It is the germination of a civil servant, I suppose. It adds a whole level of bureaucracy. There are people who want more red tape, I suppose, and may see a personal benefit to being one of those commissioners or members of the board of directors, but ultimately it would choke and strangle the legitimate intentions of the first nations community and the elected band council. The commission, in a case like this, would have to have the power to ensure that the rights of non-Indians were protected.

This is established within the acts. In making its rulings, the commission would have to take into consideration the well-being of the non-Indian over whom it would have taxation rights. The commission would also ensure that first nations tax laws are in harmony with those of surrounding municipalities. In other words, what kind of independence is that if the newly established tax commission is in charge and has the authority to dictate tax policy within the first nation? It cannot exceed or go beyond what exists in the surrounding municipalities. Is that not harmonization? It is the very assimilation in practice, if not in name, to which first nations pointed and found so abhorrent in the white paper of 1969.

We keep coming back to this. It almost seems like the government, or at least the Prime Minister, left one job undone in 1969 with the catastrophic failure of the white paper on Indian affairs and it wants to finish that job now in the twilight of this career, and the current Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has been charged with the responsibility to see that through.

I pointed out earlier that the white paper of 1969 was met with such derision and opposition that it spawned a whole generation of aboriginal people to rise up and protest. It spawned a generation of activism and that activism is still there today. The only difference is that there are a lot more people who are trained legally and who have been to university who can put up a genuine fight-back campaign now in the courts, if not in the streets by conventional activism.

It begs the question, if the newly formed tax commission has the right to generate revenue, can a first nation then do whatever it wishes with the revenue that it raises? Is it free to spend in accordance with its needs? The answer is no again.

Under the proposed legislation a first nation would be constrained by the proposed governance act, the twin sister, the other side of the coin and the proposed new institutions bill, to spend local revenues only on local infrastructure as approved by the tax commission whose members are appointed by the federal cabinet. What kind of independence is that?

First nations would be allowed to be the tax collectors, but would not be free to spend the taxation any way they want. Any other level of government would be furious. It would be taking to the streets objecting to this heavy-handed imposition, really the will, of the minister. It is a model of which I just cannot imagine anybody approving. First nations would not even be free to spend as they see fit the revenues without the approval of the tax commission, and the commission could veto any bylaw passed by a first nation. Let us remember who the commission is: 12 people hand chosen and appointed by the minister.

First nations would also be required to ask the tax commission for approval of their annual budgets and expenditures. They would be held to a higher standard than the federal government. They would be held to a higher standard than any level of government in the country because as we know, the federal government does not even operate on estimates and expenditures. It is only accountable to what it spent when the Auditor General has time to review the spending pattern of the previous year.

Some provincial governments, to their credit, operate by submitting estimates first, getting them approved and then having their expenditures reviewed. That is the standard to which the federal government would hold first nations. They would have to go before the commission to approve the budget or estimates first, and they would also have their expenditures reviewed and audited by the same tax commission who are appointed by the minister. It is a striking denial of the right of first nations to govern themselves.

It is the antithesis of self-government. It is instituting a Eurocentric colonial view of managing affairs for them because the legislation finds its origins in the premise of the argument established by the Canadian Alliance, that first nations cannot and should not be allowed to do it themselves, that they need the great white father to supervise them because they are incompetent or criminal in their activities, corrupt. That was the pattern being painted by the Canadian Alliance and unfortunately it was bought by the government.

I will close by saying that Bill C-19 cannot be dealt with in isolation. It must be viewed in the context of the whole package of first nations governance legislation that has been coming at aboriginal people like a whirlwind. It has been an overwhelming bombardment of changes to the way they live and do business, and it is all being done from here. It is not being done in cooperation and in conjunction with their needs and legitimate demands. It is being imposed on them. It is the same mistake; it is history repeating itself once again. And the government will not listen.

If the minister was sincere about garnering support, I would be willing to join him to make meaningful change if he would take one step back and start over. Let us move forward with meaningful amendments to the Indian Act, not this language we are dealing with today.

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11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I would like to inform hon. members that starting with the next speaker, speeches will last 20 minutes, followed by a ten minute period for questions and comments. The Chair would appreciate it if you would let him know beforehand if you wish to share your time with a colleague.

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11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, a couple of points of view have been brought forward today and I am pleased to add another one to the mix.

It is a pleasure for me to stand and speak to Bill C-19 on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party, as well as on behalf of our aboriginal affairs critic, the member for Dauphin—Swan River, who could not be here today to speak to this important legislation.

Several issues are at stake here. I think in general the Conservative Party agrees with the original purpose and premise of the bill but, like all legislation that the Liberals propose, one has to go beyond the apparent purpose and premise of any legislation to see exactly how it will unfold and exactly how it will affect the aboriginal community in this particular instance, or the individuals who will be most affected by any piece of the government's legislation.

The principle of giving more autonomy to first nations is a principle that the Progressive Conservative Party supports, and I would go so far to say that I believe it is a principle that most parties in the House support.

I guess the devil is in the detail, so to speak. The complications with this come when we look at exactly how the government is drawing this road map toward greater aboriginal self-government.

Like my colleague from Winnipeg Centre has mentioned, will we actually see greater aboriginal self-government or will we simply see more government bureaucracy, because more government bureaucracy does not mean greater aboriginal self-government. They are diametrically opposed to one another.

It is my understanding that adhesion to the new financial institutions would be optional. I listened closely to my colleague who said that there was no guarantee in the bill that this would be optional and that it may end up being mandatory down the road. That is certainly not my understanding of the legislation but it is an aspect that I will look at in great detail.

We agree with the approach that first nations communities have different needs and different goals. Federal legislation dealing with first nations needs to reflect the differences in the communities.

When one reads the précis of Bill C-19, it states that 83 first nations groups have passed similar laws and that they generate in excess of $40 million in property taxes every year, which allows those first nations to be more autonomous and self-sufficient and pursue projects for the general betterment and good health of all of their band members.

The purpose of the bill, if we believe the government, is to give more first nations that same power to raise taxes and issue bonds as other levels of government already have. The intent of the bill is to make first nations communities more financially independent and attractive to investors. Under these proposals, property tax money and resource revenues could be pooled and used to issue debentures and bonds to raise more capital to, for example, pay for new infrastructure projects, such as roads and water systems, the same process that any other level of government would use to raise its own funds.

Four separate institutions have been proposed. As I mentioned earlier, this is where we start to find that the devil is in the details. The first of the new institutions would be a first nations tax commission. The commission would consist of 10 commissioners appointed by cabinet, including a chief and a deputy chief commissioner, who would hold office for up to five years and may be removed by cabinet at any time for a direct cause. In this case the commissioners must include one taxpayer who uses reserve lands for commercial use, one taxpayer who uses it for residential use and one taxpayer who uses it for utility purposes, which should bring some level of democracy and direct involvement of the people, who are actually using the land, to the board.

The second board would be the first nations financial management board and it would have 15 members. The third board would be the first nations finance authority and it would have a five to eleven member board. The fourth would be the first nations statistical institute.

The fourth board bears closer perusal. The management of the board would be comprised of at least nine directors and no more than fifteen. The institute would provide statistical information on fiscal, social and economic conditions of first nations groups, members of other aboriginal groups and others who reside on the reserves. It would be given the power to collect, analyze and extract data related to a variety of areas, including health and welfare, agriculture, commercial and industrial activities, education, law enforcement, finance, language, culture, labour and employment, environment, fishing and population.

I do not think anything was missed there but I am sure there must be a couple of other areas that could be added at a later date.

It also has been mentioned in the House that the Auditor General, in her report on first nations, has already said that there are over 150 separate documents that must be compiled by first nations to stay in compliance with the federal overseers at this very time. I see this first nations statistical institute as one more part of an overly bloated bureaucracy. I question whether it is required because I suspect all that information is out there now. It is a matter of compiling the existing reports that have already been given.

It is well understood and well agreed upon that, to use a tired cliché, the status quo is not acceptable. Most of us would agree on that. Whether or not Bill C-19 is the answer for first nations fiscal and statistical management act, I do not know, quite frankly, if it is the answer. It is perhaps a step in the right direction but it is one that requires much more indepth study, much more participation by the aboriginal communities themselves and will need amendments at committee.

Although I am no longer the critic for aboriginal affairs, I was the PC critic for a number of years and I put forth many amendments, some of which were accepted by the government, but the majority of which were not. I have not seen, in any other department, the government being willing to take a serious look at amendments to any legislation it may have before the House. It would much rather pass legislation that does not fully deal with the situation in front of it, whether it is in Indian affairs or in any other department.

There is also concern that the establishment of the four new institutions would require a significant amount of money to establish and subsequently maintain. One estimate of the amount of money alone is $10 million annually. I suspect that $10 million must have a better home, whether it is clean water on reserves, better educational facilities, better training or more economic opportunities. I am certain that $10 million could be used by any of the reserves anywhere in Canada.

Some first nations groups have stated that they would rather see the money directly invested in infrastructure on reserve. That has been raised by the first nations communities themselves.

These measures could have a long term impact on bettering the lives of Canadians living in first nations communities but we feel that the government is doing little to address the short term problems. What are the short term problems? They are health, housing, clean water, education, and we could go on. It seems that we are, in one way at least, putting the cart in front of the horse.

There is one more item regarding this particular legislation that causes me great concern. Last summer on August 15, 2002, when Parliament was not in session, a draft version of this bill was put on the INAC website. It was presented as the first nations fiscal and statistical management act, even though there had been no such bill tabled in Parliament.

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11:55 a.m.

An hon. member

Where did that come from?

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11:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Apparently the government was so secure in its knowledge that this bill would be passed simply by bringing it to the House without amendments that it could publish it for first nations and the Canadian public to look at, not as a proposed act but as an act, last summer, before Parliament, parliamentarians and critics for Indian Affairs and Northern Development had any opportunity at all to look at it.

This draft was not even a bill, much less the law of the land, but the fact that it was presented as such shows the little esteem that the government has for due process and the parliamentary regime that we are all sworn to uphold.

In closing, my final difficulty with the legislation is that once again, like many pieces of legislation that the government has passed in many departments, it enhances the power of the minister.

It is not much further down the road when ministers of the government will not need Parliament at all. They simply will be able to sit in an ivory tower somewhere, issue decrees and bypass Parliament entirely. If we continue to give the minister discretionary authority over everything then we will not have to get into that sticky, difficult job of actually governing the country or showing up for question period and answering questions that are important to Canadians.

We will continue to study the legislation. I do believe it is a step in the right direction, albeit a step that needs to be taken very carefully and with full discussion with the first nations communities across the country.

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Noon

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the member for his thoughtful statements and also for filling in for his party's critic in this portfolio, who as we all know, is recuperating from a medical challenge. We certainly wish the member for Dauphin—Swan River well.

I have been interested in the native affairs portfolio for a number of years and the difficulties and the challenges which those individuals face. One of the areas I have identified in my talking with certain individuals is that they lack individual resources. In a way, it is comparable to the mayor of a town getting all the money that the individual citizens are entitled to and then doling it in the way that he feels.

One of the problems that we have heard listening to grassroots natives who live on reserves is that they do not get their money directly. They get it via the management, the band council and the chief on the reserve. It seems to me that it would be much better if the individuals were to have access to the money to which they are entitled directly rather than indirectly.

Could the member comment on that aspect of the situation?

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Noon

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member for Elk Island's comments about our colleague from Dauphin—Swan River. Certainly our colleague from Dauphin—Swan River has worked hard on this and other files. We do miss his presence in the House and certainly wish him a speedy recovery and a quick return to this place.

The aspect of management of funds is different in all first nations communities. There are some great examples and there are some terrible examples. They are no different from any other level of government anywhere in the country.

I would like to comment on another point that directly comes from the hon. member's question and which was mentioned in the House in the discussion on Bill C-19. That is the whole issue of first nations land management. I supported that legislation in the House. It was an important piece of legislation. It allowed first nations for the first time to be responsible for their own reserve land.

It is unbelievable to most Canadians, to most people living in a town, a city or a municipality in this country, that before first nations on reserve could cut their fuel wood, before they could open up a gravel pit, before they could put in a septic bed, before they could dig a well, they had to get permission from the federal government, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. There was no local authority they could go to. It was absolutely unbelievable.

It was my belief that first nations land management, even though it was not a perfect piece of legislation, certainly opened the door for more self-government. With more self-government comes more democracy, more economic opportunity, more affluence in the community and more ability for first nations to fend for themselves. Quite often with that rising opportunity comes more responsibility on behalf of the governance of first nations, including the chiefs and band councils who govern first nations.

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12:05 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the hon. member. He had to fill in for his party at the last moment but he has a history with this issue.

One of the important things about any change and working toward independence is the whole issue around financial management and the empowerment which is necessary to provide the means to move the communities in the direction they want to go.

I would like to hear the hon. member's opinion about the government's record with regard to financial management. We have recently seen gun control as an example. What gives the government the confidence to think that it could do a better job of financial management, given the issues like gun control that have happened in these halls?