House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier
Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and I think you will find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That Bill C-36, an act to change the boundaries of the Acadie—Bathurst and Miramichi electoral districts, be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee, reported without amendment, concurred in at the report stage, read a third time and passed.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Chuck Strahl)

The House has heard the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt this motion?

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to, bill deemed read the second time, considered in committee of the whole, reported without amendment, concurred in, and read the third time and passed)

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Darrel Stinson North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table a petition from my riding of Okanagan—Shuswap concerning serious violent crimes by repeat offenders living at the Vernon halfway house.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to require that Correctional Service Canada take stronger steps to protect law-abiding citizens by ending statutory release, informing the public immediately when a violent offender does not report back on time from day parole or other release into the community, and immediately investigate why the Vernon halfway house has the worst record in Canada for its inmates committing violent crimes.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Betty Hinton Kamloops—Thompson, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to introduce a petition signed by constituents from my riding of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.

The petitioners are asking Parliament to ensure the protection of our children by taking all necessary steps to ensure that children are protected from sexual exploitation by raising the age of consent from 14 to 18 years of age.

I am pleased to present this petition to the House today. I am also pleased to have received beautifully signed ribbons which hang on the wall of my office in honour of these people's efforts.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

West Nova
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, if Question No. 14 could be made an order for return, the return would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 14
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

John Cummins Delta—Richmond East, BC

With regard to the used hovercraft, the Liv Viking, which was recently acquired by the Canadian Coast Guard base at Vancouver International Airport to provide search and rescue service: ( a ) what was the original purchase price of the Liv Viking when originally constructed; ( b ) what was the purchase price of the Liv Viking paid by the Government of Canada; ( c ) what was the cost of the refit; ( d ) what were the design costs; ( e ) what were the costs of survey engineering and related feasibility work; ( f ) what were the travel and associated expenses of the Coast Guard, Public Works and other government agencies associated with the selection, design, purchase and refit of the Liv Viking; ( g ) what were the total administrative charges levied against the project; ( h ) what was the cost to put the Liv Viking into service; ( i ) when was the Liv Viking originally constructed; ( j ) when did it go into service in Europe; ( k ) what was the nature of the service in Europe; ( l ) when was it withdrawn from service in Europe; ( m ) why was it withdrawn from service in Europe; ( n ) how many hours of service did it have in Europe; ( o ) what happened to the hovercraft when it was taken out of service in Europe; ( p ) what are the maximum wind conditions (in knots) in the Coast Guard's Search and Rescue (SAR) Area 303 (where the Liv Viking will be expected to operate) in (i) spring, (ii) summer, (iii) fall, and (iv) winter and is the craft certified to operate in such conditions; (q) what is the wave height (percentage of time) in SAR Area 303 for the following wave height conditions – 0-1 metre, 1-2 meters, 2-3 metres and 3 or more metres – in (i) spring, (ii) summer, (iii) fall, and (iv) winter and has the craft been accredited to operate in such conditions; ( r ) do the operational performance requirements ensure that the craft has the ability to (i) undertake search and rescue operations in wave heights of 3 metres and winds of 40 knots, (ii) maintain a speed of 35 knots for a continuous period of 8 hours; and (iii) maintain a speed of 20 knots in wave heights of 1 metre and winds of 25 knots; ( s ) does the Liv Viking have a bow-ramp for use in medical evacuations and if not, why not; ( t ) as part of the refit, were the “lift” engines replaced, if not, why not, and how many hours have they been in service; ( u ) after going into service in Canada has the Liv Viking had any breakdowns or repairs, if so what were they; and ( v ) what kind of diving platform does the Liv Viking have, how do rescue divers enter the water from it, how do rescue divers and those in the water in need of assistance get aboard, and are they able to get onboard without assistance?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 14
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Question No. 14
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Question No. 14
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-20, 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 third time and passed.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-20, the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act.

Like my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent—the Bloc Québécois Indian Affairs and Northern Development critic—who also delivered a speech at second reading on November 19 in favour of this bill, I agree with this act to provide for real property taxation powers of first nations, to create a First Nations Tax Commission, First Nations Financial Management Board, First Nations Finance Authority and First Nations Statistical Institute and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

This bill essentially provides the first nations with financial management tools. Like many other bills, the bill being presented to this House today is not perfect, but it could help in creating a environment that would help first nations to assume their financial independence.

It was very important for us to support this bill to help the first nations to assume a certain financial independence or least much more than they had in the past.

I sit on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources with the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, and we heard from a number of first nations officials, who supported this bill, not to mention those whom we met privately, as part of our parliamentarian duties.

Everyone knows that the Bloc Québécois cares about the self-government claims of the aboriginals, since we too have many such claims in Quebec. In fact, we prefer the term “sovereignist”. In our opinion, true self-government is achieved when a nation controls all of its economic levers. First nations that will avail themselves of the services provided under Bill C-20 will be able to play a more active role in their economy and promote private investments on their territory. This legislation will give first nations access to tools that are already available to other levels of government and in turn access to financial markets, among other things.

However, we warn the federal government not to succumb to the temptation of using Bill C-20 to opt out of its fiduciary responsibilities towards aboriginal people. It remains the government's job to address inequality between aboriginals and non-aboriginals. I can assure the government that we will keep a close watch.

For the benefit of the public and of those members who may not be very familiar with the bill, I should mention this legislation proposes the establishment of four financial institutions. I will explain them briefly.

The first one is the first nations tax commission, which will replace the Indian taxation advisory board. It will be responsible for the property tax rule approval process, and its streamlining will also help strike a fair balance between the interests of the community and those of taxpayers, when rates are set.

The second institution is the first nations financial management board. The board will set financial standards and provide the independent and professional property assessment services required by first nations that want to take advantage of the borrowing pool of the first nations finance authority.

The third institution, namely the first nations finance authority, will help first nations communities that will adhere to the legislative scheme to issue securities collectively and to raise long term capital at preferential rates for highways, water supply systems, sewers and, of course, other infrastructure projects.

Finally, the first nations statistical institute will help all first nations communities to meet their local data needs, while encouraging participation in Statistics Canada's integrated national systems and their use.

The establishment of a new financial relationship between the federal government and the first nations is nothing new. Already in 1983, the Penner report, a report by the special parliamentary committee on aboriginal self-government, recommended that the fiscal relationship between the federal government and the first nations be redefined. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples made the same recommendation in 1996. Bill C-20 is a step along the road toward greater economic autonomy for first nations.

Here is a brief historical overview of Bill C-20. Before it established a supervisory structure to administer the new legislation, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development created the Indian Taxation Advisory Board in early 1989. In September 2003, 107 first nations began to tax real property. After the Kamloops amendments, in 1988, if I am not mistaken, a number of events strengthened the existing support for the restructuring of financial relations between the first nations and the federal government.

In 1991, the Department of Finance undertook a review of its policy on Indian taxation and, in 1993, made public the Working Paper on Indian Government Taxation.

In 1995, the First Nations Financial Institute or FNFI was created and, at the instigation of the Westbank First Nation, it was then federally incorporated. The main objective of the FNFI was to provide investment opportunities to first nations in order to ensure long-term financing of their public debt. With the adoption of Bill C-20, the FNFI will become the First Nations Finance Authority, which was discussed a bit earlier in this debate.

In 1995, a round table of representatives from the Department of Finance and the Assembly of First Nations led to the adoption of a resolution on taxation. The following year, the participants at the annual general meeting of the Assembly of First Nations adopted resolution 5/96 supporting the establishment, between the first nations governments and the Government of Canada, of new fiscal relationships based on the principles of flexibility, equity, choice, the assurance of government services comparable to those provided by other governments, economic incentives and efficiency.

The Chiefs' Committee on Fiscal Relations was created two years later to review fiscal relations between first nation governments and the federal government. That is known as resolution 49/98 of the general assembly. It recommended the establishment of first nations financial institutions. In 1999, the Assembly of First Nations expressed its support for this initiative when participants in its annual general meeting supported the creation of the first nations financial authority, and backed the Indian Taxation Advisory Board's efforts to establish the first nations tax commission. Those are known as resolutions 6/99 and 7/99 respectively.

In December of the same year, the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations signed a memorandum of understanding concerning the creation of a national round table on financial relationships, with the objective of establishing solid bases for these relationships through an exchange of information, capacity building and the establishment of benchmarks.

In 2000—we are getting closer—the Assembly of First Nations maintained its support for the creation of the first nations statistical institute and the first nations financial management board, pursuant to resolutions 5/2000 and 6/2000 of the Confederacy of Indian Nations. The general assembly then passed resolution 24/2001 supporting the recommendation by the chiefs' committee regarding the establishment of the four new first nations financial institutions by federal legislation. The legal validity of this resolution was questioned, however, since some people thought that it had not received the support of 60% of those present required, as we know, under the charter of the Assembly of First Nations.

On August 15, 2002, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development released a draft bill with the intent to carry out public consultations before introducing it in the House. Several first nations then raised deep concerns with the way the bill was written. Of course, the Bloc Québécois shared these same concerns.

As a result, the AFN convened a special chiefs assembly in November 2002 and passed a resolution rejecting the proposed first nations fiscal and statistical management bill. According to Resolution 30/2002, the proposed legislation violated the historic nation to nation relationship, infringed upon aboriginal and treaty rights, and was otherwise so flawed that it could not be corrected by mere amendments.

An additional so-called accommodation resolution was also passed, that is AFN Resolution 31/2002 respecting the right of those first nations to enter into local and regional agreements, but not in the context of national legislation.

On December 2, 2002, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development tabled Bill C-19 on first nations fiscal and statistical management in the House of Commons. That bill, which died on the Order Paper in November 2003, was reinstated as Bill C-23 on March 10, 2004. That bill also died on the Order Paper after third reading. It was reintroduced very recently, on November 2, 2004, with some significant changes. We are debating this new Bill C-20 today, after studying it for not too long, but, say, carefully in committee.

However, former Bills C-19 and Bill C-23 were unacceptable both to us and to first nations. We had concerns about the fact that the act could work against aboriginal rights and reduce the federal government's fiduciary obligations toward the first nations. We were also concerned that the institutions would only serve a few first nations.

Bill C-23, for example, like the Indian Act, delegated tax authority to first nations communities, which came down to making aboriginal governments municipal entities, if you will, when their legitimate desire was to enjoy greater financial autonomy.

Moreover, the preamble to Bill C-20 uses language that reflects the government's strongly municipal approach to the first nations.

With respect to Bill C-19, we had a number of critical comments. First, the definition of “specific claims” was too narrow. Access to the tribunal was nearly impossible; the $7 million ceiling excluded most claims. Neither the commission nor the tribunal were independent or impartial. The minister had the power to accept or reject claims. Finally, there was doubt about the impartiality and flexibility of the process.

Fortunately, two very important changes have been made in the bill before us today. First, a schedule was added to ensure that the legislation applies to those first nations who wish to participate, because participation is optional, something we feel is very important. Second, a non-derogation clause was included to protect the aboriginal and treaty rights of all first nations.

These changes ensure consistency with the Charter of the Assembly of First Nations as well as the principles of self-determination, the approach taken by the first nations, and the optionality provided for in recent resolutions of the Assembly of First Nations, which were passed in Saskatoon and ratified again in Charlottetown.

This economic disparity exists because some lands do not have services, investors are uncertain and the cost of starting a business is still too high.

A backgrounder produced by the First Nations Fiscal Institutions Initiative says that a dollar of first nation tax revenue buys 30% to 50% less in capital works than it does for other governments. The problem lies primarily in the legislative and institutional framework.

For 130 years, the Indian Act has perpetuated this state of affairs, this lack of fairness. It has prevented first nations from creating their own institutions and participating in the economy.

Will Bill C-20 completely correct this situation? No, but we think it is a step in the right direction, as long, of course, as the federal government does not use this bill as a means to opt out of its financial obligations with respect to the first nations. I repeat, the government has a fiduciary obligation to the aboriginal peoples and it cannot opt out of that.

There are so many things to improve in the living conditions of the first nations that they will not be settled by this bill, but only through real political will exercised by the current government.

Housing conditions, education and health are inferior compared to the rest of the population. On the reserves, 65% of families live in substandard housing. The Bloc Québécois is deeply concerned about the fact that the lack of adequate, affordable housing for aboriginals has implications beyond housing standards. We know that various medical and social problems are related to poor housing conditions and quality of life. The Government of Canada must make the necessary efforts to correct the situation without offloading the problems to the first nations.

Bill C-20 will help first nations who so desire to participate significantly in their economy and encourage private investment on their lands, which is more difficult at present. First nations wanting to borrow money to develop their community infrastructure face transaction costs, processing delays and interest rates that are far too high, even prohibitive.

Despite the positive aspects of this bill, we must not lose sight of some of the basic principles it must respect. First, will it protect the first nations' right to self-determination? Will it benefit first nations, particularly those in Quebec? Will it protect the rights of first nations that opt out of the legislation and the obligations toward them? Will it help redress the fiscal imbalance of first nations that take advantage of this legislation? We may not get all the answers today, but we will make sure the minister does not forget these questions.

For the Bloc Québécois, aboriginal independence claims are very important and must be respected. Recently, with Bill C-14, we supported the aboriginal peoples' right to self-government. Bill C-14 was about the Tlicho people. This bill will help those first nations who so desire to access the financial tools they have been lacking and that the other levels of government have been using for a long time.

That is why we are in favour of Bill C-20.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

December 10th, 2004 / 12:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

I am very pleased to rise on behalf of the NDP to speak to Bill C-20. Nothing is perfect, but we see a lot of improvements in this bill over the one that was introduced in the 37th Parliament, Bill C-23. We had some very serious problems back then and thankfully people have had a chance to take another look. This is a bill that we can live with.

It is important because it does a number of things. It takes a huge step forward in giving autonomous responsibility to the first nations people for their own future. At the end of the day, is that not what all people ask for, frankly around the world, to be the authors of their own destiny? In the modern world, if we do not have control of our finances, we really are limited to how much true control we have over the course in front of us.

I am particularly pleased in terms of the pooling aspect, which is a big part of this. It came from the experience in B.C. with the New Democratic government there working with the municipalities and the provincial government. They pooled all their money so their borrowing needs were also pooled and that meant two things. First, all municipalities had an opportunity to borrow money at one of the best rates available. That will now apply to the first nations people, assuming this bill carries and we certainly hope it does.

Second, it allows smaller communities or municipalities, in the case of the first nations people, to still benefit from what is usually available only to larger urban centres where they have the money and the ability to back up their borrowing needs with sufficient revenue at a very good rate. The lower rate we pay the more tax money can be applied to other important things such as health, education, environment, et cetera.

This part alone will play a significant role in assisting first nations people with a lot of their needed projects. Anyone who has visited any of the first nations reserves will know the challenges that are there. We cannot help but walk away with a heavy heart realizing how much more this country has to do for its first nations people.

This modest step forward is still significant because it will allow them a little more certainty in terms of the future: how they get there and how they are going to pay. The fact that they have smaller numbers will not limit their ability to play the kind of role that they obviously want to play, and that the House wants to see played.

Long after the bill is passed, we are going to be watching to ensure that there is no creeping paternalism in this process at all. This is meant to be an arm's-length autonomous process that allows the first nations people to make their own decisions. That means beginning with appointments to these boards and commissions and agencies, all the way through to the decisions that they make and the implementation of them. They need to be in control. We as a caucus will not stand for any kind of paternalism.

The whole idea is to get away from paternalism. This is very significant to us. It is equal in fact to the money and commissions that are being created, and the ability to charge for property taxes and increase their revenues. They are all important, but if we do not move away determinedly and in a progressive fashion from the overhang of paternalism that still exists, if we are not achieving that with Bill C-20 and every other bill we deal with from here on in, then quite frankly, this House is selling a bill of goods to the first nations people. History would show that they have been sold more than bill of goods.

This needs to work for them. It needs to work for Canada.