Mr. Speaker, I want to express to the House my pleasure in being able to rise to the discussion on this particular bill.
It is, in many respects, a very good bill. As has been pointed out by the hon. parliamentary secretary, it follows the 11 round table discussions where representatives got together from all the provinces and a variety of municipalities, large and small, and had their input into this particular bill. While the bill does in many ways meet some of the discussions that took place and some of the requests they made, there are some areas where the bill falls short and where the suggestions made were not accepted.
I want to address the House in a way that suggests we ought to look at this not as a fait accompli or something that is finished but rather as something that is in the process of being put together.
We will have to recognize that it does improve the equality, fairness, equity and predictability of payments to municipalities and other taxing authorities in terms of the taxes that might otherwise be paid by people who own property in those particular taxing authority jurisdictions.
It gives the minister the right and power to pay those taxes and to make those payments in lieu of taxes, and also to make payments in case those taxes are late for whatever reason that might be. It also adds to the provisions of the act a predictability factor in the sense that very often the assessment authority does not have its final number complete. The government has always had the practice in the past of withholding at least 5% of that amount. That will now be brought forward. If it is not, then the interest, or the amount of interest that might have been calculated out of that amount, will be paid. That is a good provision within the bill.
The bill also allows the federal government to collect from third parties if they do not pay their rent or taxes to make sure that the proper taxing authority gets that particular payment. That is a desirable thing as well.
It establishes an advisory panel, or council as the hon. parliamentary secretary has indicated, which is designed to resolve disputes between taxing authorities and paying authorities, in this case the Government of Canada. At the same time as it does that, the advisory panel also has absolutely no teeth connected with it. This then raises some concerns that we have.
The first concern is that the advisory panel really has no teeth. It may make recommendations at the point of the assessment. It may make recommendations about whether the payment was late and was unreasonably withheld at the usual time or on the amount of money that should be paid. It can make recommendations but there is absolutely no provision in the bill that suggests that the minister may not unreasonably withhold approval of these recommendations. As a consequence, the minister's discretion is complete. He or she may accept the recommendations, amend them, reject them or simply ignore them. The interesting thing is that the panel has no real authority.
The panel is also to help resolve issues with regard to disputes when it comes to crown corporations, especially agents of the crown corporations that really exist for the creation of profit for the Government of Canada. In this case too, the panel may make recommendations but there is absolutely no obligation on the part of the corporation to accept those recommendations. The corporation may amend them, reject them or simply accept them, but it is totally at the discretion of the corporation to do so. I think that is a shortcoming within the bill.
The other point within the bill is that the minister's discretion is so complete that the apparent willingness or direction from the municipalities and taxing authority is that he actually pay these amounts and that he do so at a predictable time and so on. This discretion is totally his. As a consequence, he has an authority that no other property taxpayer in Canada has. When we get our tax notices, we must pay our taxes. If we do not pay them we get taken to court and our property is eventually confiscated. The minister has total and complete authority and discretion as to what he will and what he will not do. I think that is a shortcoming.
The other aspect to the bill is that it totally ignores the recommendations from the committee. This was a joint technical committee on payments in lieu of taxes. This particular group made a representation to the minister saying that when it comes to schedule 4, these are agent crown corporations which are supposed to make money, should all be included under schedule 4, and that is what schedule 4 actually says. Specifically they recommended that Canada Post and the Royal Mint be added to schedule 4.
Since then, we have had the amendment of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Act. The act clearly indicates that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation may make a profit and that the profit ought to accrue and will accrue to the shareholder, which is the Government of Canada, and it should be paying a business tax when and if the taxing authority taxes businesses that are in the business of making profit. There is this a very startling omission in the bill by not including under schedule 4 these corporations.
Some may wonder why it matters. It matters a lot because there are taxes here that are due and should be paid, and payment should have been made in lieu of those taxes. This is particularly evident when one looks at that particular list of corporations. Under schedule 4, we find the Business Development of Canada, which is clearly a profit making corporation and these others should be added in exactly the same way as that one is.
We want to be very careful how we examine the bill because we need to recognize that the bill has within it some very, very positive things, but it also has some negative things in it and we need to recognize what they are.
One area in which I have a special concern has to do with clause 3(6). This clause reads as follows:
“For the purposes of the definition “federal property ” in subsection (1), federal property does not include
(d) any Indian reserve, or any land referred to in any of paragraphs (c) to (e) of the definition “taxing authority” in subsection 40 2(1), except for the part
(i) that is occupied for residential purposes by an employee of Her Majesty in right of Canada who would not, but for that employment, live on that reserve or land, or
(ii) that is occupied by a minister of the Crown;
That sounds very good, particularly when one reads the explanatory notes as to the purpose of this particular change in the bill. The purpose is:
To ensure that First Nations governments have the same access to federal payments in lieu of taxes as do other “taxing authorities”.
When the First Nation government is granted the status of a “taxing authority” as defined in section 2(1) of the Municipal Grants Act, they are entitled to the same payments in lieu of taxes as “federal property” as all other taxing authorities.
Under subsection 2(3)(c)(ii) of the current Act, the definition of “federal property” on Indian reserves is limited to property occupied by departments for providing service to the off-Reserve population, a restriction that does not exists for other taxing authorities.
That seems fair and equitable and really sounds great, but let us take a closer look at the Municipal Grants Act definition of taxing authority. I want to warn our observers that this will be a significant bit of reading and may very well cause some of them to ask themselves exactly what is going on here.
I will read the definition of taxing authority from the Municipal Grants Act. It states:
“taxing authority” means
(a) any municipality, province, municipal or provincial board, commission, corporation or other authority that levies and collects a real property tax or a frontage or area tax pursuant to an Act of the legislature of a province,
(b) any council of a band within the meaning of the Indian Act that levies and collects a real property tax or a frontage or area tax pursuant to an Act of Parliament,
(c) any band within the meaning of the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act, chapter 18 of the Statutes of Canada, 1984, that levies and collects a tax on interests in Category IA land or Category IA-N land as defined in that Act,
I will quote from subsection(2):
(2) For the purposes of the definition “taxing authority” in subsection (1), where one authority collects a real property tax or a frontage or area tax that is levied by another authority, the authority that collects the tax shall be deemed to be the authority that levies and collects the tax.
(3) For the purposes of the definition “federal property” in subsection (1), federal property does not include
(a) any structure or work that is not a building designed primarily for the shelter of people, living things, plant or personal property or, for greater certainty, any structure, work, machinery or equipment included in Schedule II,
(b) any real property developed and used as a park and situated within an area defined as “urban” by Statistics Canada, as of the most recent census of the population of Canada taken by Statistics Canada, other than any real property acquired pursuant to the National Parks Act or the Historic Sites and Monuments Act or any real property that is occupied or used as a park and has been prescribed to be included in the definition “federal property” pursuant to paragraph 9(1)(d),
(c) any Indian reserve, except for that part of the reserve (i) that is occupied for residential purposes by an employee of Her Majesty in right of Canada who would not, but for that employment, live on that reserve and that is prescribed
The act makes some changes in this area but the real issue goes back to the first part of this, which states:
any council of a band within the meaning of the Indian Act that levies and collects a real property tax or a frontage or area tax pursuant to an Act of Parliament,
(c) any band within the meaning of the Cree-Naskapi (of Quebec) Act, chapter 18 of the Statutes of Canada
The issue here is whether Bill C-9, which numerically precedes Bill C-10, creates a new kind of taxing authority, a taxing authority that is the result of amendments to the Constitution of Canada. I would suggest to the House that to change the Constitution of Canada is not something that can happen in a piece of legislation in the House.
However it appears as if Bill C-9 creates under the Nisga'a treaty a level of government that is not recognized in the Constitution of Canada. The Constitution of Canada clearly recognizes the federal government, provincial government and municipal government. That is where it ends. Somehow another level of government has been created under Bill C-9 which, according to the act that I just read with regard to a taxing authority, leads into some difficulties.
Some may ask what the complication is. I ask, what other level of government can override provincial and federal laws? There is not one. Under Bill C-9 and the Nisga'a treaty it is possible that a new kind of government structure can override federal and provincial laws. It is clearly stated that it does so in 14 areas. It says that the Nisga'a government can override federal and provincial laws in 14 areas.
I will read those areas into the record: Nisga'a citizenship; structure, administration, management and operation of Nisga'a government; Nisga'a lands and assets; regulation, licensing and prohibition of businesses, professions and trades; preservation, promotion and development of Nisga'a language and culture; direct taxation of Nisga'a citizens; adoption; child and family services; preschool to grade 12 education; advanced education; organization and structure of health care delivery; authorization and licensing of aboriginal healers; Nisga'a annual fishing plans for harvest and the sale of fish and aquatic plants; and Nisga'a wildlife and migratory birds entitlement.
Those are areas in which the federal and provincial governments may make laws and the particular government structure created under Bill C-9 allows this group to override these provisions. How can that be when the constitution clearly does not recognize this form of government?
This bill allows payment in lieu of taxes to a government that is neither fiscally nor democratically accountable. That is the other part of Bill C-9 which I take strong exception to. We would think that this was a simple matter but it is anything but simple.
Bill C-9 creates three levels of government within the Nisga'a treaty. There is the central Nisga'a Lisims, then four village governments and three urban local governments. Most of the individual Nisga'a will be dependent upon that government structure. It is as if this government is somehow going to be independent and able to provide and have the resources to allow its citizens to make a living and create the kind of successful and healthy environment for themselves and their families.
From the provisions of that particular treaty, it is pretty clear that that is very doubtful. There will be a concentration of power in this group of government structures at three different levels. The Nisga'a citizens will be largely dependent on either the government largesse or will be employed by certain government corporations. It is concentrating power into a small group and giving it big powers.
Gordon Gibson is a very strong scholar of democratic processes. He was the leader of the Liberal Party in British Columbia and is now a fellow of the Fraser Institute in British Columbia. He has done a lot of research on the business of power and how democracy actually allocates power to certain groups. He made the observation: “Small governments with large powers may acquire the ability to control the citizens rather than vice versa”.
That is absolutely critical to the success of a democratic system of government. The people ought to be in control of the government, not the other way around. That is an abuse of the basic principles and philosophies of a democratic form of government.
I suggest that not only has a new form of government been created under the Nisga'a treaty, but it has also created power in that group which really is too great in order to manage in a truly democratic fashion.
There is another significant part. This particular government will not be spending its own money. It will be sitting there spreading largesse to its citizens, but it will not be money collected from the citizens given back to them in one program or another. No, it will be money collected from taxpayers across Canada. That is the money it will be spending.
Some people argue that it is not really all that much. The minister of Indian affairs told us it would only cost us $500 million. It is pretty clear that is the absolute minimum amount and if we analyse what some of the costs will be, it will be closer to $1.3 billion. Talk about a change. We should take cognizance of that.
Another point to recognize is that with the new government created under Nisga'a, the act does not allow non-Nisga'a people to vote for that government. They can pay taxes to it. That government has the right to assess their property and force them to pay taxes but in no way are they represented on the group that actually makes the decisions about how their property should be assessed, how much the mill rate should be and the payment that should be made. These are serious shortcomings and should not be allowed.
We need to recognize that there are some very serious problems. A taxing authority has been created. Is this really a taxing authority in terms of the provisions and definition in the Municipal Grants Act as currently written, and the Constitution of Canada itself which overrides all these considerations? What ought to be done?
There ought to be some equality created. The kind of government structure that exists within the Nisga'a and the government structure that exists in other provinces and municipalities ought to be the same. The rules governing the election of these people ought to be the same. Everybody ought to be allowed to vote for those people who will ultimately decide how the money will be spent, how they will be taxed and things of that sort.
The equality principle is absolutely fundamental in order for us as democratic citizens to feel that we have some equal opportunity to influence what is happening in government. Instead of doing that, Bill C-9 builds another brick in the wall of separation between ethnic groups. For that reason I have some serious difficulties with it. But that is only one part of it.
The other part is that there is no equality among Canadians generally, and even among those people who live on the Nisga'a lands. There are those who are Nisga'a and those who are not. There is also a lack of accountability. There is no clear statement about how this group shall be accountable.
We can read the provisions of the treaty and say some of that is provided for. I will read some of things that should be provided for, and to a degree are, but not completely or enough.
With the procedures and processes for the election of local aboriginal governments on reserves whether it be Nisga'a or elsewhere, the services of Elections Canada should be made available to deal with allegations of vote rigging and intimidation. That provision is missing. It is important that Elections Canada have something to say about that.
The fiscal accounting procedures of local aboriginal governments, including the provision of the services of the Auditor General of Canada to ensure fiscal responsibility, should be made available and should apply in this case.
The direction of a greater portion of Indian affairs funding, or Nisga'a funding, should go directly to aboriginal persons on the reserves. Then local aboriginal governments would have to tax it from its own people in order to get access. That would put the purse strings of local aboriginal governments in the hands of the people to whom the governments should be accountable. This is the essence of responsible government that non-aboriginals have enjoyed for 150 years, but which our aboriginal people are still waiting for on reserves.
We need to have democracy. We need to have equality. We need to have accountability. We all need those things. For some reason, those fundamental principles are missing in Bill C-9 in the Nisga'a treaty.
Now we are creating a situation where we put into doubt all of those things. What are our children and our grandchildren going to think? What are people going to think 14 years from now? It is serious stuff.