Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning. My name is Manny Jules, chief commissioner of the First Nations Tax Commission, one of three institutions created by the First Nations Fiscal Management Act. I was also chief of the Kamloops Indian Band in British Columbia from 1984 to 2000.
Thank you for this opportunity to address the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs as part of your study of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today I wish to discuss our proposals to help indigenous economies recover and emerge stronger out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The history of indigenous peoples and pandemics has not been good. They have been used as opportunities to reduce our place in Canada and the national economy. My presentation would not be taking place were it not for past pandemics. From first contact to the 1862 epidemic in British Columbia, smallpox created the opportunity for colonization and the creation of Canada. This soon reduced our status to dependants governed by the Indian Act and the Department of Indian Affairs. It provided the opportunity to legislate us out of the federation and the economy, because it was thought that smallpox would ultimately eliminate indigenous peoples.
Despite these efforts, we were resilient. Secwepemc leaders presented a proposal to then prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1910 with many of the same elements I am presenting today. As my ancestors said then, we want to be partners in this land. We want to be like brothers and sisters. We will make each other great and good. In other words, give us the same opportunities as other Canadians and we will contribute to the strength and growth of this federation.
As it has been for many indigenous leaders, renewing our place in the federation and economy has been my life’s work. This is why we built the First Nations Fiscal Management Act. As the most successful first nation-led legislation, today there are 300 first nations using the FMA.
Their economies and revenues were growing. They were building more economic infrastructure. Their credit ratings were rising. It was a model to bring us back into the economy and then federation. Then COVID-19 happened—but lessons were learned from previous pandemics, and this time we were ready.
On March 24 the FMA institutions wrote to the federal government warning of the pending public health, economic and fiscal calamity facing our communities and governments. On April 9 we sent another letter, this time to propose a two-part strategy: first, immediately help impacted first nations replace forgone fiscal revenues so they can maintain services during the emergency phase of the pandemic; and second, implement an indigenous economic recovery strategy using the FMA to enhance the Canadian economic recovery strategy.
As a short-term measure, we proposed that a first nations tax deferral loan program be established and that first nation debenture payments for this year be made by the federal government. This would help communities replace lost revenues so that they can better meet public health requirements.
We also presented a four-part indigenous economic recovery strategy: expand the First Nations Fiscal Management Act to include the First Nations Infrastructure Institute, which will certify shovel-ready economic infrastructure projects much faster; monetize existing federal infrastructure transfers so that more infrastructure can be built sooner; expand indigenous fiscal powers to include sales, resource, tobacco, cannabis, excise and income taxes to support greater resilience; and expand the mandates of the FMA institutions so they can provide more statistics, services, support and capacity to all interested indigenous governments and organizations.
This strategy will provide the foundation for a stronger indigenous investment climate. It provides a framework so that indigenous communities can have the same opportunities to participate in the recovery strategy as other Canadians. We have been working for the past two months with the federal government on this strategy and are hopeful that the necessary legislative changes we have proposed are accepted and presented to Parliament this fall.
We hope that this committee will continue to support our work and ensure that there are no delays.
Thank you very much.