Mr. Speaker, I would like to start off by recognizing the great amount of work that has gone into the drafting of this legislation and the advice that has come from the three first nations. They should be recognized for their leadership. The leaders of the three tribes have taken some flak at home from other treaty nations, but their forward-looking initiatives will pay off very well in the long term.
I would like to recognize the leadership of the White Bear nation in the Moose Mountains in southeastern Saskatchewan, the Blood Tribe and the Siksika First Nation as well. Two of these nations are resident in my riding and I know them very well.
The White Bear First Nation has one of the finest golf courses in Saskatchewan. I had a wonderful opportunity a couple of summers ago to play a round of golf there. There is a wonderful hotel and casino complex for evening entertainment. It is a great place to visit if one has the time.
I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-54, an act to provide first nations the option of managing and regulating oil and gas exploration and of receiving moneys otherwise held for them by Canada. The bill would give the White Bear First Nation, the Blood Tribe and the Siksika First Nation the authority to manage and regulate all their oil and gas resources and moneys currently administered on their behalf by Indian Oil and Gas Canada.
Although these three first nations are currently the only signatories to this, the bill would enable other first nations to similarly access their oil and gas resources and moneys providing they meet the legislative conditions. By doing so, the bill lays the groundwork for true economic independence and autonomy for Canada's first nations.
For generations Canada has recognized the unique situation of its first nations. I might suggest we have not always addressed them, but we have recognized them. Various measures have been taken over the years to improve the economic condition of first nations.
Some may say that past actions to address first nations economic needs have been overly maternalistic. Some may consider too encouraging of a culture of dependence. Others may feel that before autonomy is granted, complete self-sufficiency must be demonstrated. How can a group of people become more self-sufficient by continuing to rely on government funding?
The reality is, the years of allocating government funding has done little to encourage economic growth within Canada's first nations communities. While this approach was thought to be the most effective one, it has not worked. Without direct control over the resources that generate the revenue, true economic independence is not possible.
For all the millions of dollars that go into first nations communities in Canada, there are still many reserves living in abject poverty with a lack of adequate and proper housing and, as has been referred to very eloquently in the papers and in the House as of late, a lack of safe drinking water. There are still reserves with exceedingly high levels of unemployment and critically low levels of education. There are still reserves ripe with social problems and violence.
While this legislation is not a panacea, it is the next logical step in carrying out Canada's commitments to its first nations. It embodies the concept of sustainable development. It puts power in the hands of the resource owners, giving them the autonomy to develop and reap the benefits of economic self-sufficiency. It is a well known fact that the performance and accountability of aboriginal self-government is enhanced when those who receive services contribute to the cost of those services.
Bill C-54 would allow first nations to achieve greater self-reliance and to benefit from improved governance tools. It would provide the means for first nations to create a unique process and framework of laws within which to exercise full control of their oil and gas resources. It also would demonstrate the ability of first nations and the Government of Canada to address the issue of accountability. On this side of the House we put a lot of credence in accountability. That is why we recognize the value in the bill because it does bring accountability. As this relates of course to the self-management of resources, that is the accountability to which we are referring in the bill.
There are five nations within my riding of Macleod including, as I mentioned, two of the signatories to the act, the Blood Tribe and Siksika First Nation. Naturally the legislation is important to me and to my first nations constituents. I am confident that the first nations that have signed on to this act will be very successful and that they will be the example for other first nations to follow.
These two signatories already have embraced some very unique and promising economic initiatives. For example, the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta, which is under the direction and leadership of Chief Charles WeaselHead at this point, already is active in the oil and gas sector. Western Lakota Drilling, an Alberta based company, approached the Blood Band with an offer to partner on a purchase of a drilling rig. The Blood also has been very active in agriculture. Last year, for example, the Blood Tribe entered into an agreement to market their long fibre hay products to Japan and also to other Pacific Rim countries with a multinational corporation.
The Siksika First Nation is in the midst of creating a world class tourism and interpretive centre. The date has not been set, but sometime in January it is my understanding there will be a grand opening for this interpretive centre. This interpretive centre, called the Blackfoot Crossing, is the historic site of the signing of Treaty 7. It is of national and international historical and archeological significance, and I am proud to say that it is in my riding of Macleod. It has been designated as a national heritage site and is recommended also to be a world heritage site. As a matter of interest, if this is successful in its bid, it will put two world heritage sites on the map in the riding of Macleod, another item of which I am quite proud.
It is easy to see how the legislation is a natural progression for both the Blood Tribe and the Siksika First Nation. It gives these first nations the authority to manage both their oil and gas revenues as well as their money.
Statistics show that status Indians living on reserves represent about 61% of the status Indian population in Canada. That translates to 445,436 on reserve status Indians and 285,139 who live off reserve. In addition, the on reserve status Indian population is expected to increase by almost 58% from 2003 to 2021. This compares with an increase of about 12% for the Canadian population as a whole. About 40% of the status Indian population is under the age of 19 compared with 25% for the entire Canadian population.
As we can see from the numbers Canada's aboriginal communities are young and they are experiencing significant population growth. For this reason it is so very important that our aboriginal communities become more self-sufficient.
We need to ensure that our first nations have the capacity now for future economic strength in the Canadian as well as in the global marketplace. Bill C-54 would help achieve this.
I will now talk about the implementation of the act. First, the legislation is entirely voluntary, which is one of the most important features of this. Although three nations are involved in it at this point, it is through voluntary membership that other nations will be encouraged to sign on to this opportunity. Only those first nations who meet the legislative requirements can proceed with joining on to this program. It requires an affirmative vote by any first nation, a referendum of all eligible voters and an approval by a majority of the majority is required.
Accountability is a key consideration as well. Accountability measures will include annual financial statements in accordance with the generally accepted accounting principles of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. Annual audits of the financial statements, in accordance with the generally accepted auditing standards, will also be required for those first nations choosing to opt in to the legislation.
A lot of other issues come to mind when we talk about the first nations. We have certainly heard a lot about the drinking water issues in Kashechewan and the negligence of the Liberal government in recognizing how dire a situation those people were put into. It is absolutely deplorable that this is actually allowed to happen in this modern age and in our rich country.
In today's newspaper we read again about the United Nations chastizing Canada once again for not resuming talks on a land claim settlement that has been in discussion for some seven years. It is amazing that we let something that serious drag on for so long. The people who inhabit these reserves deserve much more than what the government has been offering them.
I would like to recognize two colleagues of mine who have been very active in working on the legislation and helping to guide it through. Although it is a government bill, we need to recognize that our Indian and Northern Affairs critic has been very instrumental in making sure, before it was ever drafted, that it would actually acquire the support it needed and would address the issues that it was meant to address.
It is also interesting that we are hearing today about troubles within the first nations among their leadership. I would certainly encourage and hope that they can come together in some sort of agreement and be able to attend the first ministers meeting in Kelowna in the near future with a united front to help the government recognize how much it has forgotten about our first nations and how important they are.
I would like to talk a bit more about the two first nations within my riding. I spoke briefly about the Blood Tribe. I have become good friends with Charlie WeaselHead. He has been a wonderful host when I have been invited to the Blood Tribe for visits.
The Blood Tribe is doing something very unique. For many years its farmland has all been leased out to other farmers. This year it has pulled back about 2,500 acres and it is being leased to some of the members of the band. The band has an irrigation project with somewhere in the neighbourhood of, and correct me if I am wrong, over 50 pivot irrigation systems. More and more of these will be under the control of the band itself.
It is only fitting that the band is strengthening its position in agriculture as a way of providing resources to fund the health projects and the education projects that the band wants to put together on its own reserve and Bill C-54 would provide the band with the resources it needs.
I spoke earlier to their partnership on a drilling rig. My understanding is that this drill rig is not very far from being completely paid off, so there will be great profits not only to the company that they are in partnership with but also to the band itself. I applaud the Blood Tribe for its efforts to ensure that it will some day be self-sufficient. I think that is fundamental to its success and its future.
The Siksika Band, which is just east of Calgary on the Bow River where Treaty 7 was signed, had an incredible issue with flooding this past spring. A lot of the houses on the reserve were, if not destroyed, certainly damaged badly. We are still working with the band and helping it to get these houses back in shape.
However I understand those are not the only first nation houses at issue. I heard my colleague talk about some of the ones in northern Saskatchewan and other places. It is a common problem, not only the flooding but the lack of funding and direction from the federal government.
Another colleague of mine from southeastern Saskatchewan, who is part of the White Bear Nation, which is, as I mentioned, another very forward thinking first nation, has played a pivotal role in helping to put this together.
I would like to sum up by saying that this bill reflects 10 years of consultations with first nations and it follows a very successful pilot project. It is time for the aboriginal government to be given the power to raise its own revenues to reduce the cycle of dependency. Bill C-54, in my estimation, would achieve that.
Bill C-54 would build stronger and more self-reliant aboriginal communities. Bill C-54 would enhance the accountability of band councils through requirements to develop and ratify both an oil and gas code and an environmental code. That is something we have not talked much about but there are environmental requirements and very restrictive environmental controls within this.
I think it is pretty clear that I support the bill and I encourage other hon. members to do the same.