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

Business of the House

10 a.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek
Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I understand that you would find unanimous consent for the following order. I move:

That, during 2004, the words “second Friday preceding Christmas Day” in Standing Order 28 be read as “second Tuesday preceding Christmas Day”, provided that, if at any time when the House stands adjourned, a committee has a report ready, the said report may be deposited with the Clerk of the House and shall thereupon be deemed to have been presented to the House.

Business of the House

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

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

Business of the House

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

(Bill S-10. On the Order: Government Orders:)

December 3, 2004--The Minister of Justice--Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of Bill S-10, a second act to harmonize federal law of the Province of Quebec and to amend certain acts in order to ensure that each language version takes into account the common law and the civil law.

Federal Law--Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 2
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West
Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

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

That Bill S-10, a second act to harmonize federal law of the province of Quebec and to amend certain acts in order to ensure that each language version takes into account the common law and the civil law, be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee, reported without amendment, concurred in at report stage, read a third time and passed.

Federal Law--Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 2
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

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

Federal Law--Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 2
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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

Bill C-20. On the Order: Government Orders:

December 9, 2004—The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians--Concurrence at report stage and second reading of 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

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

December 10th, 2004 / 10:05 a.m.

London West
Ontario

Liberal

Sue Barnes Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between the parties, and I believe that you will find consent for the following motion:

I move:

That Bill C-20, an act to provide for the 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 deemed to have been concurred in at report stage, read a second time and ordered for consideration at the third reading stage later this day.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

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

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to, bill deemed concurred in and read a second time)

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

When shall the bill be read a third time? By leave, now?

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Outremont
Québec

Liberal

Jean Lapierre for the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

London West
Ontario

Liberal

Sue Barnes Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-20, the first nations fiscal and statistical management act.

Before I speak to the contents of the proposed legislation though, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and I note that our chair, the member for Nunavut is here today, and colleagues in the House who, with their consent, facilitated this final debate today. I acknowledge and am grateful for that.

This important legislation will enable first nations to access the tools they need to increase their participation in the economy. Under the provisions of Bill C-20, first nations will have at their disposal the same financial instruments and mechanisms used by municipal governments to plan effectively, raise capital and secure investments. With this capacity, first nations will be better able to realize their dreams of self-sufficiency and prosperity.

The impetus for this legislation originates with first nation leaders from across the country. It is important to recognize that Bill C-20 was developed by first nations for first nations.

The legislation before us today is the product of many years of hard work, detailed analysis and continual refinement. Leaders of first nations have told us that Bill C-20 represents their communities' best hope for a more equitable share in Canada's prosperity. I believe it is incumbent upon us to champion this hope and facilitate a new reality for first nations in our country together.

The latest figures from Statistics Canada confirm that first nations communities continue to rank among the poorest in Canada; their residents experience the lowest standards of living. This is not acceptable. This we need to address.

Manny Jules, the principal architect of Bill C-20, summed up the current situation eloquently, when he said:

Today a wall surrounds First Nation economies; a wall built by past legislation and policies; a wall of mistrust and dependency that traps us in poverty. Each additional year of dependency adds another brick in this wall. The wall has not served Canada well because it prevents us from participating in the economy.

Manny Jules, together with Chief Strater Crowfoot, Chief Tom Bresette, Harold Calla and Deanna Hamilton are foremost among the committed leaders of this legislative initiative. Others have done amazing work to assist the development and realization of their dreams, and I acknowledge not only their presence and support today, but their steadfast efforts over time.

I am convinced that Bill C-20 will help dismantle the wall. With this vitally important legislation, first nations communities will be able to fulfill their vision of self-sufficiency and prosperity. Bill C-20 would enable first nations leaders to meet the specific needs of their specific community.

The essence of the legislation is a series of four distinct yet complementary institutions: a finance authority, a tax commission, a financial management board and a statistical institute. Precursors to two of these institutions, for instance the Indian taxation advisory board, have operated for several years and the results have been remarkable. The time has come to move forward to do better.

Once these institutions are in place, first nations will have many of the powers long enjoyed by municipal governments, including the ability to borrow money at competitive rates, to develop effective real property tax systems and to protect the interests of their ratepayers.

First nations that participate in these institutions will also be able to increase financial management capacity and improve long term planning. In short, first nations will exercise greater control over and assume greater responsibility for the economic and social health of their communities.

The viability of every community in Canada is affected by the strength and reliability of its physical infrastructure. For example, transportation links, water and sewage treatment facilities and other components of modern infrastructure are also essential to economic growth, Municipalities across Canada have long funded infrastructure projects through low interest loans. Lenders were keen to invest in these projects because of the legal status, financial health and political stability of municipal governments.

Most first nation communities, though, struggle to attract investors and finance the construction of infrastructure. Funding even the most modest of projects quickly becomes prohibitively expensive due to high transaction costs and interest rates. Furthermore, verification and approval processes often delay the start of projects, leading to additional costs.

According to a study completed by first nations fiscal institutions initiative, funding an infrastructure project in a first nations community can be up to 10 times more expensive than a similar project built elsewhere. As a result, today many first nations communities suffer from the effects of inadequate physical infrastructure. Bill C-20 would establish these four independent institutions that would provide valuable services to first nations at every stage of growth.

I would like to describe these institutions briefly now and explain their roles.

More than a decade ago, a handful of communities pooled their resources to create the First Nations Finance Authority Inc. for investment purposes. As the number of first nations participating in the authority grew, so did the feasibility of issuing debentures to access long term capital at competitive interest rates. The concept attracted the support of a key partner, the Municipal Finance Authority of British Columbia, which had 30 years' experience and a triple A credit rating.

The new First Nations Finance Authority will provide participating first nations with access to capital markets by issuing debentures using property tax revenues as security, debentures that will finance infrastructure projects.

To assist band councils in instituting effective property tax regimes, Bill C-20 would create the First Nations Tax Commission, or FNTC. The FNTC will establish the legal framework needed to effectively balance community and ratepayer interests. It will institute processes to resolve disputes and to approve bylaws and it will provide the services needed to securitize real property tax revenues. In short, the FNTC will foster the secure and stable fiscal environments sought by investors.

To ensure that this environment thrives over the long term, first nations must have access to adequate financial management services. Lenders must have a clear and accurate picture of the fiscal health of borrowers. Independent assessments must be readily available. The First Nations Financial Management Board, or FMB, is designed to meet these requirements.

There are two components of the FMB's mandate. The first component focuses on the provision of technical services to first nations regardless of financial status. The FMB will assist with research and advocacy, policy and capacity development, along with financial management, reporting and standards. These activities will help first nations communities to make the most of their financial resources.

The second part of the board's mandate focuses on first nations that collect property tax and seek to borrow against this revenue. The FMB will certify and monitor financial management standards of these first nations, providing potential investors with a clear and accurate picture of fiscal health. By conducting independent assessments of financial status, the board will ensure that lenders have the information and the confidence needed to invest. The FMB will be empowered to intervene promptly and decisively if needed.

To ensure that the institutions I have described can function appropriately, their performance must be recorded accurately and also analyzed regularly. To accomplish these goals, an effective method of gathering statistics is needed. Unfortunately. the quality and accuracy of statistical systems in first nations communities has been inadequate and, I must say, inconsistent. Precise, relevant data is particularly essential for community planners. Information on population growth and effectiveness of service delivery mechanisms, for instance, is needed to design effective housing and health initiatives.

Planners in first nations communities, though, rarely have had access to the valuable information collected from fellow residents. Although several government departments and agencies have long collected data about and from members of first nations, this information is seldom shared with other agencies or even with the communities that have provided the information in the first place.

A few years ago, the Auditor General estimated that each first nation annually provides the government with information about more than 150 aspects of community life. Data concerning school enrolment, employment, population and dozen of other subjects are recorded and analyzed, but the information is usually gathered for specific purposes and rarely shared with first nations.

Not surprisingly, this severely hampers the ability of band councils and aboriginal leaders to plan effectively. Further compounding the problem is the fact that few agencies involve residents of first nations communities directly in the compilation, collation and analysis of information. As a result, few aboriginal people have acquired any familiarity or expertise with statistical techniques. Although this is a generalization, I think it is relatively true.

Bill C-20 would improve the situation significantly by establishing the First Nations Statistical Institute, or FNSI. FNSI will have the power to collect information from a variety of sources and develop a comprehensive database of accurate and pertinent statistics about each first nation community in Canada. As a first nations led organization, FNSI will bring an aboriginal perspective to every aspect of information collection, interpretation and use.

Of greater significance, though, is the positive effect that the expertise in data management will have on local governance. Chiefs and councils will have the data needed to make informed decisions about economic and social development in their communities.

In the Speech from the Throne, the government committed to begin the essential task of renewing its relations with first nations. The government vowed to follow a collaborative approach and pledged to establish a relationship based on equality, trust and mutual respect. Much progress has been made on this front and we will continue to go forward.

The Canada-aboriginal peoples round table united representatives of dozens of governments, agencies and organizations from across Canada for a series of focused and productive discussions. These talks led to a series of processes to accelerate progress and measure performance.

Sectoral follow-up meetings focusing on health, lifelong learning and housing have already been held. Next week, sessions on fostering economic opportunity will get under way.

The legislation before us today is another part of this collaborative effort. Designed by first nations, Bill C-20 would play an important role in the new relationship between Canada and aboriginal peoples. The legislation sends a clear message to all first nations that the Government of Canada is aware of the problems they face, has listened carefully to the solutions they have proposed, and is now prepared to act.

The practical fiscal management tools at the heart of this legislation will help first nations better manage their land and more easily acquire the funds they need to engage in community building projects. Improvements in physical infrastructure would contribute to a better quality of life in two ways. Upgrading transportation and communication links creates jobs, establishes new opportunities for entrepreneurs and increases land values. Investments in infrastructure fuel a healthy cycle of economic development that will continue well into the future.

Bill C-20 provides these tools that would support the building of new relationships and give first nations access to financial instruments and mechanisms to raise capital and secure investment. With these tools, first nations would be able to create a business-friendly economic growth and realize their dreams, not ours, of self-sufficiency and prosperity.

This legislation is not a panacea for the economic woes of first nations. It will not magically transform poverty stricken communities into prosperous, thriving towns. Bill C-20, however, would give first nations the freedom to develop their communities on their own terms. Community leaders would gain access to the same legal tools and financial mechanisms that enabled other Canadian communities to flourish and grow. All first nations can benefit from the expertise of institutions such as the FMB, whether or not they decide to participate in the borrowing pool.

Bill C-20 would not diminish the constitutionally protected rights of aboriginal peoples. Instead, the legislation would help those first nations that choose to participate to exercise those rights by creating equal opportunities for first nations within the Canadian constitutional framework.

The government is well aware that there is no such thing as a one size fits all solution to the divergent needs and aspirations of first nations. First nations governments can use this legislation if and when they are ready. No band will ever be forced to take part. The choice of whether to participate or not will be up to the individual communities.

Bill C-20 is flexible and inclusive enough to meet the needs of hundreds of first nations. I am convinced that the tools accessible through Bill C-20 would help to close the considerable gaps that exist between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in this country.

Furthermore, by combining rigorous standards with legal powers and institutional support, the legislation would ensure that first nations operate within their debt carrying capacity as they move toward self-sufficiency.

Finally, Bill C-20 would create a legal framework enabling first nations to work directly and effectively with private companies and public agencies. This would put an end to first nation isolation and lead to a better quality of life for first nations communities.

In short, Bill C-20 outlines a balanced approach to long term financial health for first nations. Clearly, all Canadians stand to benefit.

Bill C-20 is not a prescriptive bill. First nations are neither required to participate in the institutions I have described, nor must they adhere to a specific regime. This legislation recognizes and accommodates the divergent needs and aspirations of first nations. I believe that the flexible, inclusive approach articulated by Bill C-20 is its greatest strength. Bill C-20 would provide access to a range of options, enabling each community to chart its own path to prosperity.

I thank my hon. colleagues of all parties who have by their actions shown support for this legislation. I say merci and I wish good luck to everyone.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is important for me to ask this question, because it has been a very important subject at the meetings of our Standing Committee on the Status of Women these past few weeks. We have been having different groups come in and give presentations. The biggest concern we have heard is that we are passing legislation in the House without any type of gender analysis, without any type of analysis that tells us how legislation is going to affect women.

Some women coming to our status of women committee meetings are from the aboriginal groups. They have a lot of concerns. I would like to know how this bill is going to address the concerns that the aboriginal women have been bringing to our committee, particularly their concerns about property rights. Yesterday we heard a lot of concerns about not having enough shelters for a lot of the women who are trying to get away from violence, from domestic violence and from violent relationships. We also have heard a lot of concerns about not having representation of women on councils.

I am wondering if any of this has been taken into consideration. It looks like we are going to be spending quite a few of the next months listening to more of these presentations. I am wondering if this bill has been analyzed for gender.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, for the hon. member opposite, I am absolutely ecstatic that the opposition party is now in favour of gender analysis. It was a policy put forward through the Beijing meetings nearly a decade ago. I can tell the member that in the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs we have already started to do some gender work inside the department on specific projects. I can also tell the member that this side of the House is looking forward to doing more gender analysis throughout all the departments, but we know that this has not been completely done at this stage.

I am very happy to hear the Conservative Party talking to this aspect of government-wide work. I know the member is not referring specifically to the work we are doing in our committee; it is actually another committee of the House that she is referring to.

I can tell the hon. member I agree with her when she says there are problems, specifically with matrimonial property on reserves. This is an issue that has taken the interest of the minister. In fact, he has recently written to the chair of our committee asking the committee to study matrimonial property with a view to looking at legislation the House could put forward to address this huge challenge, which has stymied many first nations leaders and individuals.

I know that the reality of the problem is there. Our committee has not yet had a chance to discuss how we will go about this mandate, so I will not preclude what the committee will do on that matter because that would be inappropriate at this time. I very sincerely believe, as a personal belief, that this is a challenge which we have to all rise to together. We will not do that without a collaborative effort with first nations communities, which also recognize that this is a huge challenge.

As for the bill itself, if the member would read specific clauses in the bill she will see that they specifically talk about getting qualified men and women, for instance on the directorship, including first nations communities, involved in this legislation. At the committee, I actually pointed out the specific clause in the bill that refers to this.

The benefits will be in the well-being of the whole community. I am very much looking forward to people utilizing this aspect. I look forward to working with the member and her party in future on all these issues.