It's a privilege to appear before this committee. Over the years, I have watched this committee advance first nation initiatives and improve first nation legislation. The research and work you're doing right now is important to first nations and all of Canada.
As an introduction, I am the director of Fiscal Realities Economists. We are a group of economists located in Kamloops and Georgina Island, Ontario.
About 20 years ago, then Chief Manny Jules asked us for some advice on how to raise economic growth in his community. That began a 20-year research and development project with Manny, the First Nations Tax Commission, a number of other first nations, and a bureaucrat who believed in investment-led growth, Mr. Bob Kingsbury.
We consider ourselves among the luckiest economists alive, because we've had the opportunity to help mix the science of development with the art of politics, and facilitate hundreds of millions in investment on first nation lands. It is an honour to share what we have learned during this time with this committee. We have provided a brief about our research and some our suggestions, so I will focus this statement on four questions that might interest you.
First, what causes first nation economic disparities with the rest of Canada? The answer is simple and obvious to anyone who has ever visited first nation lands. First nations are not receiving their share of private investment. Investment generates employment and public revenues. It allows communities to provide quality local services and infrastructure, which attracts more investment. This is a circle of growth that most Canadian communities experience. Investment can come from external sources like a business locating in a community or internal sources such as individuals investing in housing or starting a business.
Instead of a virtuous circle of growth, many first nations are caught in the vicious cycle of dependency. This circle starts with public transfers that are insufficient to build business-quality infrastructures, provide quality local services, and fill the institutional gaps created by the Indian Act. This creates a poor business climate, so first nations don’t attract private investment, which means fewer jobs and lower public revenues, and the transfer-dependency cycle starts all over again.
Second, why is there so little investment on first nation lands? In 1999, my business partner, Greg Richard, and an economist who worked for us at that time, Jason Calla, completed an important study. It demonstrated that the costs of completing an investment on the best-located first nation lands were four to six times higher than they were on comparable off-reserve lands. It was, for economists, our eureka moment. If you can lower the costs of doing business for first nations, you can create a virtuous circle.
Next, what causes these high costs of doing business? Much of our work has focused on this question over the last 20 years. To begin, a sound investment climate includes a role for both the public and private sectors. The private sector looks for a competitive rate of return resulting from an advantage in location, resources, labour, or technology. The public sector supports these private decisions through secure private property rights, quality infrastructure, good local services, and transparent, responsive government at a reasonable rate of taxation.
The high costs of doing business on first nation lands are not a result of an uncompetitive first nation private sector. They are a result of an uncompetitive first nation public sector. Generally, first nation infrastructure, local services, property rights, local government powers, and administrative responsiveness are below regional standards. Stated differently, many first nations are missing the institutional framework to facilitate private investment.
Under the current system, with a lot of patience and resources, it is possible to close many of these institutional gaps. In Tk'emlups at Sun Rivers, where our office is located, an acre of land sold for $8,000 in 1996. The value of that same acre has risen to over $500,000 after Tk'emlups created the best possible legal, administrative, and infrastructure framework possible under the Indian Act at a cost of several million dollars and over a four-year time period. Similarly in Westbank, an acre of land in 1991 sold for $10,000. Now that same acre is closer to $750,000, but first it took 15 years and many millions of dollars, a self-government agreement, new infrastructure, and numerous laws.
It can be done. But you might be interested in the last question. How can you improve the first nation investment climate in a timely and cost-effective manner? It has been our observation that successful first nation changes have four elements.
First, they require first nation leadership. Second, they must be optional so that first nations can exercise their freedom of choice. Third, successful implementation requires the support of first nation institutions that help implement the legal and administrative requirements. Finally, when legislation is necessary, that change requires the political will of the federal and sometimes provincial governments.
If these ingredients are in place, here are five suggestions that could help move interested first nations towards a more competitive investment climate.
First, provide the option for interested first nations to have the same collective and individual property rights as other Canadians. This could be accomplished through the proposed first nations property ownership act, sometimes called FNPOA.
Second, provide interested first nations with an option for a turnkey legal framework that is more harmonized with adjacent jurisdictions. This could be accomplished through the proposed FNPOA. This will save interested first nations years of implementation time and millions of dollars. This will mean interested first nations will not longer have to build the economic development car before they can drive it.
Third, encourage first nations to improve their fiscal relationship through participation in the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act, also called the FSMA. The FSMA is the beginning of a new fiscal relationship where first nations have clear expenditure responsibilities and exclusive revenue authorities to meet those requirements. The FSMA should be enhanced to provide more revenue authorities, such as the first nations goods and services tax, and to accommodate transparent formula-based transfers so first nations are better able to deliver quality services and build competitive infrastructure.
Fourth, provide bursaries to students interested in accredited certificates in first nation tax administration and first nation applied economics at the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics. This training uses our 20 years of research and the success of the First Nations Tax Commission to train students on how to fill the institutional gaps that facilitate investment on first nation lands. Over 70 first nations have taken some of these courses, and increased bursaries would enable more to build this necessary administrative capacity.
Finally, and this has already been stated, expedite additions to reserves. For those first nations without access to markets and comparative advantages, additions to reserve offer economic opportunities. The current ATR process is far too slow and costly. ATRs could be made faster through greater use of the FSMA and the potential of the proposed property ownership act.
None of these changes are costly, and some of them only require legislation. The benefits to first nations in Canada could be significant. Raising the productivity of first nation lands by facilitating more investment could reduce much of the disparity between first nations and other Canadians. Moreover, the fastest growing element of the Canadian labour force is first nations people.
The sustainability of Canada's social programs are about to become increasingly dependent upon the productivity of first nation peoples. This is why the work of this committee is so important.