Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House on third reading of Bill C-19, the first nations fiscal and statistical management act.
It has been suggested that the proposed first nations fiscal and statistical management act would have the effect of isolating first nations from the mainstream of Canadian society. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This initiative would help break a legacy of isolation and the economic marginalization, dependency and social ills that the Indian Act has bred. Bill C-19 is a first nations led initiative. It is led by first nations who seek a brighter future as full participants in the Canadian economy.
In part, this means building new relationships with Canadian and international bond underwriters, credit raters, potential investors, business partners, federal and provincial statistical agencies, neighbouring communities, accounting societies and so on.
In fact, consultation on the bill has already done much to open lines of communication where none existed. Let me highlight that Bill C-19 would help first nations build these new relationships by creating the legal and institutional framework by which first nations could work directly with many interests.
A few examples will help illustrate the importance of the bill. The members of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association comprise the largest single real property taxpayer in Canada. In its letter of February 11, 2002, to the chairman of the Indian Taxation Advisory Board, CEPA expressed its view that the proposed legislation “will ensure consistent, fair and predictable approaches to valuation and taxation across Canada on first nations lands”.
The board went on to express its thanks “for the opportunity to assist in the development of this new institution through our discussions and input”.
Similarly, in an e-mail of May 16, 2003, to all its members, the executive of the Canadian Property Tax Association stated:
We strongly believe working with the (proposed) First Nations Tax Commission is a continuation of the good relationship we have developed in the past with the Indian Taxation Advisory Board.
Both CEPA and CPTA are important Canadian institutions with significant interest and expertise in the real property taxation field. They attest to the positive relationships that have been built with the Indian Taxation Advisory Board and other first nations proponents of Bill C-19 and express their support for the direction being taken.
Bill C-19 would help strengthen first nations real property tax system in order to support the sustained development of first nations communities. This is being done in a way that is harmonized with the varying real property tax systems which exist across the provinces.
This harmonization helps strengthen existing relationships and provides a foundation for building new ones. As expressed in his letter of November 27 to the Prime Minister, Mayor Colin Kinsley of the City of Prince George noted:
...this model will allow First Nations to partner with local governments on joint services initiatives, like sewer and water projects, thus benefiting all communities involved.
Likewise as expressed in his November 25 letter to the Prime Minister, Mr. Ron Jamieson, Senior Vice-President for Aboriginal Banking at the Bank of Montreal noted:
By providing the capital for infrastructure, through the issuance of First Nations Bonds...the (proposed) First Nations Finance Authority will assist in opening the door to economic development on-reserve. This will provide new opportunities for the traditional financial institutions to support these development initiatives.
Both Mayor Kinsley and Mr. Jamieson are speaking about respectful and cooperative arrangements with first nations. These arrangements would be based upon mutual economic interests. Bill C-19 would lay the legal and institutional framework to support such cooperative efforts.
I might note further that the development of the proposed first nations finance authority is itself a model of federal, provincial, industrial and first nations cooperation. The first nations institution is being developed with support from the very successful Municipal Finance Authority of B.C.
The MFA of B.C. was created by provincial statute about 30 years ago. It allows the more than 180 community governments in B.C. to organize their borrowing in a way that has earned them, collectively, an enviable triple A credit rating. No local government working in isolation could come close to earning such a strong credit rating.
Under this bond financing regime, each community can use up to 20% of its local real property tax base as collateral for borrowing. These bonds have finance the roads, water and sanitation systems, and public facilities required to support economic activity and improve the quality of life.
By contrast, first nations governments have no such access to bond or financial markets due to the existing legislative vacuum. They thus face extraordinary high transaction costs and crippling interest rates. A tax dollar generated on first nations land buys roughly 30% to 50% less in capital financing. It can also take four to six times longer for first nations to organize such borrowing transactions. This is often too long to hold the interest of private developers.
What does this mean to first nations governments? It means they are isolated. They are not positioned to work with private developers and business partners. It means they cannot compete. Why is this so? It is simply because first nations lack the legal and institutional framework of other governments, a barrier that Bill C-19 would remove. For example, it would give first nations the capacity to borrow much like local governments in B.C.
I would also like to highlight that this borrowing regime is not based on the use of federal loan guarantees or the use of federal transfer payments as collateral. Rather, first nations would use their own long term stable sources of revenue, like real property tax for collateral for such borrowing.
On one hand, concern has been expressed that in giving first nations access to tools used by municipalities, Bill C-19 would be turning first nations into municipalities. This is simply false and incorrect.
On the other hand, it has been argued that as Bill C-19 would give first nations the tools used by other governments, it must be creating a separate parallel society. This again is false and incorrect.
The facts are that Bill C-19 is first and foremost about giving first nations the tools available to other governments. It is not about municipalization and assimilation nor about creating a separate parallel society.
Bill C-19 is a unique piece of legislation created with and for first nations people. It in no way diminishes the constitutionally protected rights of aboriginal people. Rather, it helps first nations exercise these rights. It aims to create equality of opportunity for first nations people within the Canadian constitutional framework.
As a final example, I would note that Bill C-19 would also help equip first nations to work with the federal government in resolving important policy issues.
The proposed first nations statistical institute would assist first nations people in defining the issues that they collectively face and bring to bear the type of information and analysis needed to better address these problems. This institute would draw heavily upon the data held by Statistics Canada and federal departments and at the same time have influence over future data collected. Bill C-19 is directed at building this type of cooperative and respectful relationship.
Bill C-19 would create a legal framework by which first nations could work directly and more effectively with the private sector and other governments. In so doing, it would provide the tools to build a better quality of life through cooperative action and sustained regional growth.