Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today and speak to Bill C-20, a bill described as the first nations statistical and management act. The bill has made quite an expeditious journey through the House of Commons to committee and back onto the floor of the House of Commons today, anticipating early approval with the cooperation of all of the parties in the House.
I will not replicate the comments made by my learned friend. There are substantial parts of this legislation upon which she and I agree for once. My comments will respond to a couple of the questions that have been raised and to outline in philosophical terms why our party supports this legislation. The Conservative Party is fully in support of Bill C-20 and the principles contained therein.
This past month the National Post published an opinion piece which was prepared by Phil Fontaine, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. As I said before, while I do not agree with everything that my colleague, Grand Chief Fontaine, has said in that article, there are many matters upon which he and I agree and which I think all Canadians should consider.
This country is a modern federal democracy in which all of the citizens of Canada must bear equally the responsibilities and also the privileges of citizenship. The time has come that aboriginal Canadians are entitled, indeed they are expected, to share in the governance of Canada, to share in the governance of their own affairs, and their inherent right of self-government. If aboriginal Canadians are to be equal citizens in this country, if they are also to bear upon their shoulders the hopes and dreams of Canada, then they must also bear equally the responsibilities of governing this country. Concurrently, they must enjoy the full benefits of citizenship, including the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As Chief Fontaine observed in the
To be self-sufficient, to rely on ourselves, we must be free and able to make our own choices. Reliance on the choices that others make for us is a denial of the means to self-sufficiency.
In that regard, an important study was carried out in Canada and referred to by Mr. Fontaine, the Harvard Project. It referred to three factors which are critical to economic self-sufficiency. These are worth emphasizing in the context of this debate.
First, practical sovereignty means genuine decision-making power over internal affairs, governance, resources, institutions and development strategies.
Second, capable governing institutions are those which exercise power effectively, responsibly and reliably.
Third, the necessity for a cultural match, which means formal institutions of government that match indigenous concepts of how authority should be organized and should be exercised.
In this country, over the past many years, we have had a debate about the scope and content of aboriginal self-government. Much has been said about that subject and that debate will carry on. The debate, by and large, has been a democratic and a civil one, even though it has been marked by a lack of consensus on many fundamental matters.
Both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians need to be reminded that, while we do not always agree upon the scope and content of governance rights, virtually all Canadians share a desire to see aboriginal Canadians as equal partners in this marvellous country. They wish to see a full embodiment of the inherent right of self-government in a way which is practical and which achieves success for aboriginal Canadians.
The Indian Act is both anachronistic and archaic. Frankly, it has no place in the Canada of tomorrow. It has not yet been replaced in our country by a modern legislative framework only because we have been unable as a country to this point to define how and by what legislative means the Indian Act should be replaced. However, I would hasten to add that I anticipate that in the next several years we will make great strides in that regard. We will succeed in replacing the Indian Act with legislation which has the support of first nations and which moves us into the future.
The issues to be sure are complex. They involve questions that strike to the heart of this country: issues pertaining to the application of the charter; the distribution of governmental jurisdiction within our country, within our federal system; the incidence of citizenship; the correlative rights and expectations which we demand of one another as fellow citizens; and also those difficult issues that deal with the distribution of resources.
These would be difficult enough questions on their own. They are all the more difficult when one factors in the rich and diverse mosaic, the linguistic mosaic, and the cultural mosaic of Canada's aboriginal peoples: Inuit, Métis and over 600 distinct Indian first nations.
As Grand Chief Fontaine has observed, people need control over their own lives and the chance to reap the benefits of their own labours. They do not flourish when they are denied the right to decide for themselves how they will live.
I for one have reached the conclusion, after many years of involvement on this subject, that many of the difficulties which aboriginal people have faced in this country tie back to their struggle against the collectivist tyranny of the Indian Act. It is important that we replace that legislation and Bill C-20 is extraordinarily important legislation in that regard. It represents one of the first steps to pass control of the lives of aboriginal Canadians in respect of economic and taxation matters back within their own jurisdiction in a voluntary manner.
In respect of self-government, the position of myself and my party is clear. The Indian Act and related legislation should be replaced by a modern legislative framework which provides for the inherent right of self-government for the devolution of full, legal and democratic responsibility to aboriginal peoples over their own affairs. This must be done within the overall framework of our federal state.
This reform should be pursued following full consultation with first nations, with the objective of achieving a full and complete devolution of democratic authority that is consistent with the devolution of authority elsewhere within our federal democratic system. Aboriginal Canadians, like all Canadians, are entitled to enjoy democratic control over their own affairs within a legislative context that ensures certainty, stability, respect for the rule of law, and which balances individual and collective responsibility.
Aboriginal communities must have the flexibility to determine for themselves whether and how principles, such as free market principles and individual property ownership should apply to reserve lands. We feel very strongly that this devolution should be accomplished in a manner which takes into account the cultural, linguistic and rich diversity of Canada's first nations. Within that context and within the framework of the Canadian Constitution, we should be prepared to make flexible accommodations for the protection of language and culture within self-government agreements.
I return at this point to the legislation before the House, Bill C-20. One of the fundamental aspects of this legislation, which warrants emphasis, is that it originates not so much with the Government of Canada, and I mean no disrespect in that regard, but rather with a group of visionary leaders, aboriginal Canadians who have fought for their vision of self-government and who have persisted in the face of considerable difficulty.
I speak of a team of people, but there are four or five people in particular I wish to mention for the record in this honourable House. They are Chief Tom Bressette, the chairman of the first nations statistical advisory panel and the present Chief of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation; Harold Calla, chairman of the financial management advisory panel, a councillor and individual from the Squamish First Nation; Chief Strater Crowfoot, chairman of the Indian taxation advisory board and chief of the Siksika First Nation; Deanna Hamilton, the president and CEO of the first nation finance authority of the Westbank First Nation; and Manny Jules, the former Indian taxation advisory board chairman and the former chief of the Kamloops Indian Band.
These men and women, and the extraordinary team of people who have worked with them are fighting to ensure that the first nation communities that wish to will have voluntary access to practical levers of self-government, which will bring them economic progress, prosperity and social development.
Their vision is one of prosperity, of infrastructure development, of economic development, of economic opportunity and social progress. The self-government, which they are fighting for, is predicated upon the hard work associated with citizenship in this country, the installation of community infrastructure, the responsibilities of debt service, the administration of a property tax system, and the building of fiscal, managerial and financial capacity in their communities.
The legislation also concurrently balances the interests of the federal crown and contains provisions that would provide the necessary protection for the position of taxpayers commensurate with that of other taxpayers in our federal system.
I wish to point out, in response to some of the questions that have been raised surrounding this legislation, that there has been an enormous amount of consultation surrounding the development of this statute.
The bill not only originated with the first nation communities, of which I have spoken, but this project evolved to include many other first nations and regional first nation bodies, the First Nation Summit of British Columbia and the Union of Ontario Indians. Discussion was held in those forums.
Years of consultation and debate have surrounded the development of this initiative. Debates with the Assembly of First Nations AGM, the B.C. First Nation Summit, the Union of Ontario Indians, the Atlantic Policy Congress, as well as numerous discussions with individual first nations. In addition to those consultations, meetings have been held with non-first nation taxpayers, provincial governments, private sector companies and municipal governments.
I would point out for the record and for special note, that consultations have been held with the Canadian Property Tax Association, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, the Bank of Montreal, First Nations Bank, TD Canada Trust, VanCity Credit Union, Standard & Poor's Corporation, Moody's Investors Services, the Aboriginal Finance Officers Association, the Municipal Finance Authority of British Columbia and other bodies as well.
What all of that speaks to is the remarkable amount of consultation on the legislative progress of the bill. In that regard, when I went through the provisions of the bill in a detailed way, chapter and verse, paragraph by paragraph, I was struck by the fact that the provisions of the bill were well thought out, well crafted and meticulously drafted.
There are three particular issues which the House needs to be aware of and which I think are adequately addressed in the legislation. First, the rights of taxpayers under this legislation; second, the liability of the crown; and third, the provisions relating to default or defalcation.
It is important to note that with respect to the rights of taxpayers, a great deal has been done in the legislation to ensure that a taxpayer on reserve, whether it be an industrial taxpayer or a taxpayer in a residential or commercial context, is being treated very much the same as a taxpayer anywhere else in Canada. An assessment bylaw must be approved by the tax commission under clause 5(2). Assessment appeals are mandatory and prescribed by regulation. There is an appeal review process. A review can be requested of the first nation tax commission under clause 33. In addition, the commissioners of the tax commission include specifically taxpayer appointed nominees under clause 20.
A great deal of effort went into ensuring that the rights of taxpayers were examined, considered and protected. I think they are quite commensurate with a situation any other taxpayer would face in this country.
With respect to the liability of the crown, this is an issue that has been raised. I would point out that under section 60 of the statute, no one is entitled to give a guarantee on behalf of the Government of Canada. Both sections 133 and 135 provide very clearly that no person has a right to receive any compensation or damages, or an indemnity from the crown in respect of this legislation.
I think that is very important because the first nations in this case are not being backstopped by anyone other than themselves. When we talk about aboriginal Canadians standing up and taking responsibility for their own affairs, this legislation shows that it is exactly what is happening. They are not being backstopped by the Government of Canada. This is their own responsibility. It is a collective effort on the part of first nations to guarantee one another's debt and, through that method, to advance themselves economically.
The legislation does contain provisions relating to accountability, and in particular what happens in the event of a difficult circumstance of defalcation or default. There are also extensive co-management or third party management procedures that would happen under the direction of the First Nations Finance Authority. Those matters have been dealt with as well.
This is good legislation and it is indicative of the direction in which we need to move. I spoke earlier of the individuals who have exercised leadership in bringing this forward. Our party compliments them. We are proud of the work they have achieved. We are proud to support this initiative. We think it sets a direction for the country.
Other initiatives in Canada are developing along these same lines. Just this week I met with a very well respected aboriginal leader, Satsan Herb George, who spoke of the governance centre in Chilliwack, British Columbia. This is a proposal that will fit quite naturally in with what is being envisioned by the legislation in front of us, Bill C-20.
What we are talking about is capacity building for first nations to put themselves in a position where they will have governance structures, taxation options, finance options and fiscal management capabilities to lift themselves up and to make social and economic progress on their reserves. This is all very positive.
For my part, I have sometimes worried about the endlessness of the debate that we are having surrounding self-government. The many issues surrounding self-government, the meaning, the scope and the content of that term will, in gradual course, be resolved in Canada, but I think it will be resolved in the same way that other issues in our country have been resolved and that is in an evolutionary and, I would suggest, a conservative and cautious manner that responds in a gradual way to the needs of our diverse Canadian community.
We will make progress. We perhaps will make it cautiously but we will make it with full regard to the consequences of the decisions that we are making.
Let us move forward with the legislation. This is not legislation that answers all of the self-government questions in this nation but it is a start . If we adopt this legislation there will be economic and social progress in Canada for many of the first nations that are in a position and can decide to avail themselves of this legislation. We will be closer to the economic independence and self-sufficiency of which Grand Chief Fontaine speaks.