House of Commons Hansard #51 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nation.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 78
Routine Proceedings

May 10th, 2004 / 3:10 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

What funds, grants, loans and loan guarantees has the federal government issued in the constituency of Dartmouth for each of the fiscal years 1999-2000, 2000-2001, 2001-2002, 2002-2003; and, in each case where applicable: ( a ) what was the department or agency responsible, ( b ) what was the program under which the payment was made, ( c ) what were the names of the recipients, groups or organizations, ( d ) what was the monetary value of the payment made, and ( e ) what was the percentage of program funding covered by the payment received?

Return tabled.

Question No. 78
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

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

Question No. 78
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Question No. 78
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, 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, and of the amendment.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, for the sake of brevity I will limit myself to saying only that the interventions by the member for Churchill River first, and subsequently by the member for Lac-Saint-Louis which was a particularly learned intervention, are ones with which I find myself in agreement and therefore, in order to facilitate a debate and to move the issue ahead, I would just make a proposition by way of proposing an subamendment. I move:

That the amendment be amended by adding after the words “the needs of most First Nations” the following:

“in particular, the need to enter into full consultation with First Nation leaders and communities on the benefits and impacts of this new fiscal relationship”.

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3:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair has a subamendment tabled by the hon. member for Davenport which is deemed to be in order.

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3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I support the subamendment by my colleague from Davenport and I want to stress that the government should enter into meaningful consultations with the first nations regarding Bill C-23.

Our first hope, which was the original motion by my colleague from Churchill River, was that the bill would be sent back to committee for further consultation and re-examination on the basis that it is a conviction that consultations have been inadequate and that the bill remains as an imposed solution to a problem that would have far better been addressed by other means, such as going back to the drawing board, going back into a true sense of negotiation, of conciliation and based on sharing of resources, that the first nations own and which have been recognized by treaties that have been enshrined in the Constitution under section 35.

Our feeling is that if we were to pass the bill by using our majority and then send it to the Senate as it stands, in the context in which we find ourselves today, with a great majority of first nations totally opposed to it, we would, yes, obtain legislation, but it would be legislation enacted without consent.

In effect, the bill, if passed, will remain an imposition on first nations. History has shown that first nations are persistent and they will not cede ground regarding their inherent rights under the Constitution. They will continue to oppose the legislation, regardless of whether it is in the short term or the long term, if they truly believe there has been no meaningful consultation on the institutions under Bill C-23. They are in a position to continue in the short term, the medium term and certainly in the long term to oppose the legislation.

Have we progressed that way? Is that what we want or do we seek an avenue of consensus, of conciliation, of listening to the legitimate grievances and opposition by saying that we have heard them? That is our task as parliamentarians. We need to get together with them to frame legislation that will take into account what they seek in respect of their integrity as first peoples and with respect to their right to self-government and self-management of their own affairs. That is really what many of us on both sides of the House want.

I want to quote some of the resolutions passed by the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations at different points. I think it states very clearly why they are opposed to Bill C-23 in its present form.

One of the resolutions states:

Whereas the Chiefs-in-Assembly have acknowledged that the First Nations-Federal bilateral relationship and formation of institutions must be based upon:

  1. a pro-active implementation strategy towards a bilateral fiscal relationship; a Nation-to-Nation relationship which shall maintain and protect the collective (Treaty and Aboriginal) rights of First Nations; and the AFN resolution 5/96 and 49/98 and related recommendations of the Penner Report and Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples relating to fiscal relationships including lands and natural resource revenue sharing recommendations; and...

In another resolution passed at Kahnawake, Quebec in July 2002, the preamble starts:

Whereas First Nations have received from the Creator the Inherent Right to Self-determination, which right is recognized by International law and s. 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982; and

Whereas First Nations have condemned the consultation process leading to the First Nations Governance Act as unlawful based on the constitutional standard set by the Supreme Court of Canada in cases such as Delgumuukw and Sparrow; and

Whereas in spite of the opposition by an overwhelming majority of First Nations in Canada, the Government of Canada has proceeded with the FNGA by tabling Bill C-61 (FNGA) in Parliament on June 14, 2002, and has referred it to Committee after first reading; and

Further be it resolved that we call upon the Government of Canada to engage First Nations in a respectful bilateral process focusing on the implementation of our Rights, based on the principles of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) report and the Penner Report; and

Another resolution states:

Whereas the legal instruments such as the Royal Proclamation 1763, the historic First Nations and Crown Treaties, International Law including recent Supreme Court decisions protect and acknowledge the Inherent Rights of First Nations, and furthermore, section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982 recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and Treaty Rights; and

When I intervened this morning I pointed out that in effect it was a matter of trust and mutual understanding. This is what is at the core of it. The fact is that I have spoken with many Indian people, and I know many of them, Mohawks, Ojibwas, Algonquins and others, and they have all told me, whether they were chiefs or non-chiefs, that Bill C-23, in their eyes, is an encroachment on their inherent rights, that they have not been consulted appropriately and adequately and that they have been imposed upon by this legislation.

My colleague from Glengarry—Prescott—Russell made the point this morning that maybe, if is not 60%, we would accept 50% plus one as a majority. That is not the point. The point is that in a negotiation as between what they consider as sovereign nations and our federal government, which have signed treaties to recognize each other's right to govern themselves, just as we do here, to manage our own affairs on each side, surely then our duty is to respect that right by listening to the genuine concerns of the great majority of these people, regardless of whether it is 60% or 70%. What I hear is that the majority opinion is overwhelming against Bill C-23.

We should ask ourselves if we want a bill, which, in the eyes of the people who would be impacted by the bill, is totally flawed. Do we push it through regardless or do we want to listen, open our eyes and ears and tell the first nations that we have listened to them, that we realize they see a problem in the bill and that we will delay the bill for whatever time it takes in order to enter into meaningful consultation, as was suggested in the subamendment moved by my colleague from Davenport, to produce a bill that respects first nation opinions, rights and concerns and, as a measure of conciliation and fairness, go forward in a new spirit, as our Prime Minister has spoken about?

This is really why I support the subamendment of my colleague from Davenport. I hope the House will give it full support as well and that we will enshrine a new spirit of conciliation, fairness and mutual understanding with our first nations.

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3:25 p.m.

Yukon
Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I want to comment on a couple of points the member made, and I appreciate his points. In fact I appreciate all points that have been raised. This is an excellent debate, with points coming out on both sides. I had good meetings with Roberta Jamieson and Chief Paibomsai. They have given me a number of points that I have been researching and answering.

We have been consulting and revising this bill, which started in the 1990s. If the member is saying the consultation has been insufficient, could he outline what that consultation has been? He talked about the votes. I will provide some background on those votes because he might have been alluding to some numbers that I could give some more accuracy to.

I had the department research some information for me. The AFN general assembly voted in Halifax in 2001. General assembly resolution No. 24, 2001 was endorsed 61% to 38%. The recommendation of the AFN's committee on fiscal relations was that four new national first nations fiscal institutions be established through federal legislation. This was not a vote on the legislation but a vote to look at developing it further.

It is true that during the debate at the AFN general assembly the co-chairs of the chiefs committee announced that they would bring the draft legislation back to a national meeting of chiefs for review and input. That commitment was kept.

In August 2002 the national chief of the AFN distributed copies of a consultative draft of the bill and a community guide to every first nations chief in Canada. I do not think we could go much wider than consultation with every first nations chief in Canada.

In the communiqué to the chiefs, the national chief invited all the first nations to attend a national meeting on fiscal institutions and the consultative draft. That meeting was held in September 2002 and provided significant input on the development of the bill.

There are certain first nations opposed to it, but not necessarily a majority, and certainly there has been no feedback since we made the amendments for which the majority asked.

This may or may not be true but I am just giving evidence. The only vote ever taken by the Assembly of First Nations on this bill came in October 2003. That vote dealt with the resolution on all current federal first nations legislation. That was talked about earlier this afternoon. There were three bills mixed in there. It was not just a vote on this bill. The chiefs voted 61% against the resolution, 109 to 65.

The member referred in an earlier speech to 500-odd members that might have been against it, but there were only 109 in that vote out of 633 chiefs. However, taken in the context of 633 chiefs in Canada, only 17% voted against the resolution. Further, the bill now contains amendments that addressed the deficiencies of the bill which were identified by chiefs at that meeting.

To be fair, there have been no votes. Since that resolution, there have been consultations. The draft bill was sent to all chiefs in Canada who made a significant number of amendments as a result of that. Since the amendments, there has been no vote. There is no demonstration, since we made the major improvements asked for, that the numbers the member suggests are maybe 500 against the bill.

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3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that it is a reverse argument to say that because there have been no votes since previous resolutions, then the resolutions do not have force any more. It seems to me, if there had been a change, surely the first nations would have passed a resolution to say that they accepted the bill today. Everyone I have spoken to, my information is they are totally opposed.

The member mentioned Chief Roberta Jamieson. We can ask her and she will say that she is as vehemently opposed today as she was then. The many chiefs who I have spoken to tell me exactly the same thing. Their minds have not been changed by the amendments. In fact they suggest that the amendments are purely, in their own words, window dressing.

As I see it, the resolutions still stand. There have been resolutions duly passed. The special chiefs assembly on November 19, 2002, and it concerns the draft legislation on fiscal and statistical institutions, not anything else, said:

  1. the proposed Bill is flawed and cannot be corrected by mere amendments; and--

Those were their own words.

  1. the proposed Bill is inconsistent with the previous mandates of the Assembly of First Nations, Resolutions 5/96 and 49/98; and does not recognize First Nation Inherent Right to self-government, and the nation-to-nation relationship; and

  2. the provisions contained in the Bill violate and infringe upon Aboriginal and Treaty Rights and will worsen the status quo; and

  3. the proposed Bill violates the historic Nation-to-Nation; Crown-First Nation Treaty relationship; furthermore, it violates the core essence of this relationship...

This resolution was carried 81 for, 10 opposed and 2 abstentions.

There was a further resolution of the Special Confederacy of Nations, Resolution No. 1/2003 on February 20 and 21, 2003. This one carried 37 for, only 2 opposed and zero abstentions. It said:

FINALLY BE IT RESOLVED that the AFN Special Confederacy of Nations hereby direct the National Chief to make a clear, unequivocal public statement to the media opposing the Fiscal and Statistical Management Act (Bill C-19).

It is very obvious that these resolutions still stand, unless they have been counteracted or withdrawn. They have not been withdrawn.

As I said, I spoke to some of the chiefs who took part in these deliberations, as I am sure my colleagues from Winnipeg Centre, Churchill River and others have done. They say that their minds are still exactly at the same stage as they were when these resolutions were passed.

One of the resolutions clearly said that mere amendments would not fix the problem, that the bill was flawed in its very core and substance. This is how they feel. They are totally and adamantly opposed in their great majority, and we should take this into account. We should renew our negotiations with them. We should speak to them again. We should listen to them more intently. By going ahead regardless, we might have a bill but it will be a bill that will not be accepted by the very people it is designed to impact.

That is totally wrong for us to do as parliamentarians. We do not have the final answers on the rights of people who are not there to speak for themselves. This is why they speak through resolutions and the media. We have to listen to them. I beg my colleagues on all sides of the House to listen and adopt the subamendment presented by my colleague from Davenport.

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3:35 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to join in the debate on the subamendment put forward by the member for Davenport. I am pleased that he moved it because he took the words right out of my mouth. This issue should be re-debated and a new round of genuine consultations should take place if we are to move forward with the so-called new fiscal relationship with first nations and aboriginal people.

The subamendment to the motion specifically speaks to full consultation with first nations leaders. I disagree with the parliamentary secretary who cited some examples. That consultation has not taken place.

The parliamentary secretary said that drafts of what the government was going to do had been sent out to all kinds of first nations leadership. Consultation, in its strictest definition, does not mean telling people what we are going to do to them. The word consultation in Webster's includes some accommodation of what we have heard. It requires an exchange. It would not meet the legal definition. To simply announce to people that this is what we are going to do to them as of April 1 or as of the new fiscal year and then ask them what they think about it would not meet the test of consultation. To be considered genuine consultation, there has to be accommodation of the other party's concerns.

My hon. colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis cited Sparrow, a recent Supreme Court ruling along those lines, that speaks about what full and reasonable consultation is. He also mentioned Delgamuukw, which was another recent precedent setting authority from the Supreme Court of Canada. I for one was very pleased to see the reference to full consultation in the subamendment from the member for Davenport.

To perhaps clarify what the chronology was in the lead up to the introduction of the bill, there seems to be some misunderstanding and I would go as far as to say some misinformation put out by the parliamentary secretary and those promoting the bill. Let us back up a bit and review the chronology. Then people can judge for themselves whether they really consider that true consultation has taken place.

The concept of enshrining these four fiscal and statistical institutions into federal legislation was first considered at the Assembly of First Nations annual assembly in Halifax in the summer of 2001. I was there as was the then leader of the New Democratic Party, the member for Halifax. The draft resolution supporting the concept was voted down at the convention. The idea was floated around and voted down at that assembly. It did not garner 60% of the vote at the time.

The small group of first nations who were in favour of the concept made various procedural threats, and I was there to witness this. They included the removal or the impeachment of the assembly chairperson. They were challenging the chair because they were disappointed that their initiative failed on the floor.

In the interests of good relations, some chiefs generously agreed to let the concept on the institutions carry on, but with a very strict proviso that consent was given subject to the explicit condition that any draft bill had to go back to the Assembly of First Nations assembly for acceptance, rejection or modification.

The idea was voted down. A small group of chiefs felt so strongly about it that other chiefs said that they would take the concept further on the condition that nothing would be put in place and no legislation would be approved until it came before the assembly again and was ratified and approved.

That is an accurate chronology of how it was introduced and how it came about at the Halifax assembly, and I was a personal eye witness to that. Sadly, there has been a marked reluctance to honour that commitment to bring the draft back to the assembly for an up or down vote.

Various procedural moves have been made since the summer of 2002 to prevent first nations from having their say on the bill. The supporters of the bill, who apparently have been financed very well by INAC to promote the bill, have embarked on a cross-country campaign to push the merits of the bill and to make it look like there is broad national support.

I am critical of that. I am critical of the fact that funding has been taken out of the core aid budget of INAC to create these four new financial institutions without the enabling legislation ever being passed. I am further critical of the fact that the employees of those four new fiscal institutions are being paid to travel the country to lobby MPs to support the bill. Talk about the cart in front of the horse in this case.

The enabling legislation was never passed to create these institutions. The Minister of Indian Affairs went ahead and created them anyway. Then he let the new staff of these institutions travel the country promoting the creation of the various institutions. It really is an insult to any kind of due process that one might expect.

Let me talk again about the level of support across the country. We have heard all kinds of statistics and figures about what percentage is in favour and what percentage is opposed. Let us be clear that the hard-core support for this bill is probably in the range of 30 first nations, virtually all from British Columbia.

I was at the Squamish assembly to which the parliamentary secretary made reference. The member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, the Bloc Québécois critic for aboriginal affairs, mon frère autochtone, as we call each other, and I went to Squamish and attended the assembly with the express request to the assembly to give us some direction. We told the chiefs assembled there to please give us some direction, yes or no, did they or did they not support Bill C-19, as it was called then, Bill C-23 as it is called now.

It came up for debate on the assembly floor. We sat in the observer section and watched a very passionate and fulsome debate. I wish we had that standard of debate in the House of Commons sometimes because there was a legitimate exchange of strongly held views. In the final analysis, for the third time the Assembly of First Nations voted down Bill C-19, which is now Bill C-23. We had our direction.

In October 2003 the Assembly of First Nations met and dealt specifically with this issue and once again rejected it on the basis as cited by my colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis. I have the resolutions here. They are complex and I would be happy to table them to be entered into the record after the fact.

Basically the “whereas” clauses point out that the proposed bill is flawed and cannot be corrected by mere amendments. It is inconsistent with the previous mandates of the Assembly of First Nations resolutions 596 and 4998. These are making reference to previous years when there were efforts to revisit the fiscal relationship with the federal government. These resolutions were still in full force and effect. The bill does not recognize first nations' inherent right to self-government. If anything, it interferes with the unilateral right to self-government and imposes the will of the state on first nations in contrast, we believe, to the inherent right concept of section 35 of the Constitution. The provisions contained in the bill violate and infringe upon aboriginal and treaty rights and will worsen the status quo, in the opinion of the Assembly of First Nations. The proposed bill violates historic nation to nation, and Crown and first nation treaty relationships. Furthermore, it violates the core essence of this relationship, et cetera.

It is abundantly clear that the parliamentary secretary is either mistaken or misinformed about the level of support for this bill and the actual historical fact about how the bill was introduced, debated and rejected summarily, not once but three times, at legally constituted gatherings of the Assembly of First Nations.

Having said that, I can only speak to the subamendment in the context of this speech. Let me make it abundantly clear that there is such misinformation abounding about this bill that it is incumbent on us to send it back for further review and consultation.

There are very serious implications regarding the constitutionality of the bill. What would be the point in our moving forward with the bill if we thought it was going to be challenged and ultimately struck down on the basis of constitutionality?

One of the aspects of the bill that most offends first nations is the alleged optionality of the bill. My colleague from Churchill moved I believe it was no fewer than 72 amendments to the bill when it was Bill C-19. All but two of them were rejected by the House. There were efforts made to remedy and correct the bill by amendment at the committee stage and at third reading stage until the session ended and the bill had to be reintroduced in the new session.

The federal government, or INAC, the government side, made some amendments. One of them introduced a schedule at the back of the bill saying that those first nations who choose to avail themselves of the aspects of the bill may sign on to the schedule. The government thereby tried to imply that this was optional and it would only apply to those who signed on to the back of the bill.

The alleged optionality of these three institutions is completely misleading. In fact, they are statutory national bodies that will affect the rights and interests of all first nations in Canada whether or not they are added to the schedule. If anything, the schedule model makes things worse. It is important that we have a chance to revisit this because the schedule model perversely guarantees that these important national institutions will be perpetually controlled by the small number of first nations who are strongly in support of Bill C-23 and who sign on. It affects all first nations.

Let us not ignore the budgetary aspect of it. The financing of these institutions will come from the A-base budget of INAC. I believe it is $25 million a year to start with. This would come right from money that could have been spent meeting the basic needs of other first nations that are not signatories. Whether or not they are signatories, it is money that would have otherwise been spent, hopefully, improving the quality of life of first nations on these institutions.

Let us look at the tax commission. This federally appointed body would become the czar of all future on reserve property taxation bylaws or laws. In the future, if this bill is passed, all first nations in Canada that want to develop on reserve property taxation laws and systems will have to seek the approval of the federally appointed commissioner.

How can it be said that they are not affected by it? Even if they are not signatories to this bill, any move they make in terms of property taxation will have to be approved by the federally appointed commission. It is a myth to say that it is optional. Whether they choose to stipulate themselves to this specifically by signing the schedule or not, they are certainly affected by this new institution. All such first nations will have to submit their annual property tax budgets to the commission for approval, et cetera. There is no optionality at all. It affects the rights and interests of all first nations.

I hope we are making that clear. I hope the parliamentary secretary is listening and furthermore, that he understands. There seems to be a wilful blindness on the part of the government members to listen and to hear what they are being told not just by me, and I almost expect them to not listen to me, but they are not listening to what they are being told by the very people whose lives will be affected by this bill.

Earlier I said there are none so blind as those who will not see and none so deaf as those who will not hear. There seems to be a deliberate wilful blindness by those who are so determined to ram this bill through that they will not listen to reason, logic and compelling arguments to the contrary. They will not listen to the most compelling argument of all, that first nations people are vehemently opposed to this bill. The overwhelming majority of them are vehemently opposed to this bill.

I cannot express strongly enough how disappointed I am that in this day and age in the year 2004, the House of Commons of Canada is seized of a bill that seeks to impose our will on sovereign nations, or what we view as sovereign nations, independent nations, first nations. This is not the actions of an enlightened House of Commons in 2004. This smacks more of something of the last century and in fact, the century before that.

The most disturbing strong arm component of the amended Bill C-23 is directly linked to the financial management board. This component is found in clause 8 of the bill. Communities that do not voluntarily join the Bill C-23 schedule are not permitted to pass bylaws or laws dealing with the critical area of financial administration.

Again, how is this optional? This is the analogy we used about a driver's licence. A driver's licence is optional until a person wants to drive a car and then it is not optional any more. This bill is optional unless a community wants to pass bylaws and laws dealing with the critical area of financial administration.

Non-believer communities, those that do not sing hallelujah and sign on to this will be restricted to the narrow list of bylaw topics that are currently under section 81 of the Indian Act, which list does not include financial administration.

If a first nation wants to exercise what we believe is a sovereign right as an independent first nation in matters regarding financial administration, it has to join the club. It has to sign on. It has to put its name on the schedule. Where is the optionality in that?

Local financial administration is a matter of intimate local government. We believe it has to be customized from community to community. Communities should have the right to have that local government authority. Yet the effect of clause 8 of the amended Bill C-23 is clear: only opt in or scheduled first nations can pass financial administration laws. These scheduled first nations then become perpetually subject to the federally appointed opt in institutions. First nations that do not opt in effectively forfeit a key area of local jurisdiction, that is, their financial administration. Again, where is the optionality?

One of the fears that has been brought to our attention is we have all been critical of this new burgeoning industry of third party management where Liberal friendly accounting firms get the contracts to handle the affairs of first nations that overspend by as little as 8%. We heard examples today of the gun registry that overspent by 50,000%. Yet, if a first nation overspends its budget, if it runs into financial difficulties by 8% in the deficit, the federal government can swoop in and put it under trusteeship under what we call third party management.

One of the fears now with the establishment of this management board is that the government will assign the third party management duties to the appointed board. A federal government institution appointed by the minister will now be in control of all of those communities that are under third party management. We might as well go back to the days of the Indian agent because the minister of Indian affairs will be the ultimate Indian agent as more and more communities fall into third party management because they cannot meet the basic needs of their constituents with the paltry budgets they get. They overspend. They rob Peter to pay Paul because they are tired of saying no to everyone who comes to them with a legitimate concern for new housing or to send their children to university.

Some chiefs and council do overspend their budget by 8% and boom, down comes the heavy hammer of the government to put them under third party management. Now that third party management can and may be directed to the newly constituted management board, an instrument of the minister.

How fair is that? It is a catch-22 for first nations who will swallow their pride and join the Bill C-23 schedule in order to obtain from Canada the rare privilege of being able to pass their own financial laws.

It is an extension of the Indian Act. It is an extension of the colonialism that we find so offensive to begin with. The acquired jurisdiction will be very restricted. They will still be limited as to what financial administration laws they will be permitted to institute.

All financial administration laws will be subject to the unappealable veto of the federally appointed management board. There is no appeal process. If the federally appointed management board says that it does not think a certain type of financial administration bylaw should be introduced, there is no avenue of recourse. There would be no appeal. It is fascist.

Some of the most draconian measures of Bill C-23 are designed to prop up the credit worthiness of the authority, apparently at almost any cost.

In closing, from a legal point of view, Bill C-23 has fundamental constitutional flaws. From a policy point of view, the tax and borrow obsession of the bill is unresponsive to the fiscal and program reality of all but a handful of first nations. That is why there are only a small number of first nations who wish to avail themselves of these institutions.

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3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rick Laliberte Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I know that a lot of hon. members in the House have served not only in federal politics, in large part, but some have experienced provincial politics and some of us have experienced municipal local governments, and also school boards, health boards or library boards.

I raise this because I come from Saskatchewan which in large part is a have not province when we look at the transfer payments that come from the federal government. Equalization is a high priority for my province, but at present there is a huge debate on school taxes in the Province of Saskatchewan.

Farmers have huge tracts of land and it is assessed for local improvements in rural municipalities but a tax is also levied from school boards based on the assessments.

Basically, everybody knows that in the national debates of the sorry state of the agricultural community, that the family farm has been hit enormously by world trade, the price of fuel, energy and feed. There is now a tax revolt in the Province of Saskatchewan. It is based on school taxes. This is where Bill C-23 is heading.

I would like the hon. member to comment, perhaps share with the aboriginal leaders of the country, on the fact that the municipal type of tax collection on value of land may not be the perfect way of gaining social and economic certainty in the first nations. Perhaps there should be other models that should be investigated. That is why I think the amendment and subamendment would have Bill C-23 go through a consultation process with the first nation leaders and first nation communities equally.

Hon. members here who have school trustee experience will realize that certain communities are not assessed the same as other communities. In large part, a lot of our aboriginal communities are isolated. The property value of an isolated northern community is not the same as an urban reserve in southern Canada. This will create huge differences between definitions of reserves and the fiscal value of land of those reserves.

Could the hon. member speak about the issue of land taxes for local and school improvements, but also the huge disparity of the value of land all across the geographic regions of the country?

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4 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Churchill River for a very relevant question.

Let me start my answer by saying that the unilateral nature of this newly created tax commission is made even more problematic by the many up front restrictions on first nations' property taxation as contained in Bill C-23. I do not think many people realize that first nations will not be free to spend their tax revenue as they please in accordance with the bill. In fact, they will be forced to spend their money on local infrastructure and the like, thereby lightening the burden and obligation on INAC.

Therefore, using the money to fund a land claim against Canada would be unlawful, for example. They will not be allowed to use their revenue for what they choose. They will only be allowed to use it for a very narrow prescribed list of things which take the burden off the federal government and lighten its fiduciary obligation.

If they want to build a sewage treatment, they could go ahead, sign on to Bill C-23 and fund it themselves. They can borrow the money and use as equity their tax revenue if they in fact have any, although in Shamattawa, Pukatawagan, Paungassi, and half of the reserves in God's Lake Narrows and the places that I have been to, there is no tax revenue in any event.

To answer the hon. member's question more specifically, once the tax commission is up and running, it is likely that INAC as a matter of fiscal policy will put more and more pressure on most if not all bands across Canada to develop property taxation regimes. Communities that resist will eventually see their federal contributions reduced based on tax based estimates.

In other words, as INAC is looking at its annual budget for a reserve, if there is an untapped tax base revenue possibility, INAC will simply reduce the annual funding based on what the reserve could have been making had it signed on to this program and generated those revenues in that way. In the end, most first nations will come under the federally appointed tax commission one way or the other. Once again, optionality is a myth.

Subclause 13(1) was an amendment tabled by the minister that may seem to suggest that current property tax provisions in the Indian Act will continue to be available to communities that do not jump on the tax commission band wagon. However, it is obvious that if Bill C-23 is passed into law, the only game in town will be the new provisions associated with the tax commission.

It is delusional to think that communities will be permitted to operate for any length time under the Indian Act regime in relation to property taxation. All first nations interested in taxation regimes will be obligated, we predict, to fall under this new tax commission. Again, the optionality aspect is an absolute myth.