Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to Motion No. 7, the amendment to Bill C-49 proposed by the hon. member for Skeena.
This amendment would delete the names of the 14 first nations from the schedule and in effect would make it an empty schedule. We will not be supporting this motion. It is absolutely necessary that the schedule identify the 14 participating first nations. If they are deleted from the schedule, no first nations can opt in, rendering the act inoperable. The proposed amendment suggests that the first nations can opt in through section 45 of the act but section 45 does not come into force until four or five years after the first nation has opted in.
I am sure hon. members will share my disbelief over the logic of this proposed amendment. This is not useful or even workable as an amendment. It does not improve the bill. In fact it would only serve to change the commitments made in the framework agreement.
I want to take a moment to remind hon. members why this bill is being enacted and why it is a positive piece of legislation for first nations.
The new land management regime outlined in the framework agreement empowers participating first nations to opt out of the land management sections of the Indian Act and establish their own legal regime to manage their own lands and resources. This bill will facilitate the exercise of first nations government as far as lands and resources are concerned. It gives the 14 first nations the authority to pass laws for the development, conservation, protection, management, use and possession of their lands. The crown continues to hold the title to the lands but the jurisdiction and authority to manage that land will now lie with the communities themselves.
The first nations will no longer need to get approval from the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to promote economic development on their own lands. This bill is an innovative way to establish an alternative land management regime to give 14 first nations control over their lands and natural resources.
As stated at the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, this bill is about first nations accountability, capacity building and economic development. Most important, this bill is part of a first nations community driven process that culminates here in the House of Commons.
This bill does not create a third order of government. The framework agreement that it puts into effect gives first nations the powers, rights and privileges of a landowner. I am sure no members in the House would tolerate in their own lives and businesses the kind of red tape the Indian Act imposes upon aboriginal land management.
The framework agreement will get these 14 first nations out from under these provisions. It will give them a new degree of flexibility. They will be able to get on with the task of building the economy in their communities.
The framework agreement provides first nations with greater control over their future. They will have greater autonomy and control over land and revenues in their area. The new land regime does not fundamentally alter the crown's fiduciary relationship with the first nations. However, when first nations exercise their new authority, the crown's fiduciary obligations respecting those new authorities will diminish.
This bill establishes a framework for accountability. The 14 first nations will establish a framework that defines accountability both toward the government and toward their communities.
I want to thank the hon. member for South Shore in particular for his remarks at second reading about the accountability provisions of this legislation. I fully agree with him when he said that this is a very positive piece of legislation.
Following the extensive debate this bill received at second reading, it was brought before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development where it received support from many witnesses from the first nations communities.
The committee also received correspondence from Phil Fontaine, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Mr. Fontaine described this bill as unique and an important first step, but he also pointed out that this legislation will not initiate or impose change. I am quoting when I say “the act merely provides the opportunity for these 14 first nations communities to initiate change at the pace and in the direction established by their community”. That is important to note.
One of the issues raised in committee was the question of matrimonial property. I remind the House that the government has taken this issue very seriously. That is why the department has called a second meeting with aboriginal organizations to work in partnership to identify an individual who will conduct an independent fact finding process to investigate the issue of matrimonial property as it relates to reserve lands.
If there is a broader context in which this bill should be placed, it should be seen as part of the government's agenda to respond to longstanding issues that have held back aboriginal communities for generations, issues raised in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. These are the issues that the government addressed nearly a year ago when it tabled its aboriginal action plan, Gathering Strength. The action plan has four objectives. Each of them has a bearing on the bill before us. The four objectives are: renewing partnerships; strengthening aboriginal governance; developing a new fiscal relationship; and supporting strong communities, peoples and economies.
The framework agreement and this bill to implement it provide renewed partnerships and through new co-operative relationships with other levels of government and the private sector, the first objective. They help create new governance mechanisms through increased lawmaking powers and accountability, the second objective.
In fact the framework agreement provides opportunities to help build the capacity of first nations communities for self-government. It gives an opportunity for first nations peoples to demonstrate that they have the skills and knowledge required for accountable, democratic and efficient government structures.
These first nations will develop their own source of revenue and those who manage the process will remain accountable to the community for their actions. This relates to the third objective of Gathering Strength which is to develop a new fiscal relationship.
Control over lands and resources provides a foundation for stronger communities based on healthy economies. That is the fourth objective of Gathering Strength.
Land and resources provide opportunities for first nations. All too often these opportunities have not been tapped because first nations are hamstrung by the provisions of the Indian Act concerning land and resources. Local control over reserve lands will mean that first nations will be able to take advantage of economic development opportunities, and well that should be.
The benefits will also spread to neighbouring communities that will prosper from economic development spinoffs. We will see an end to the situation where transactions that off reserve might take a matter of weeks can go on for months when they involve first nations land.
New partnerships will be forged between the first nations and surrounding communities. That too is important to note and is worthy of our support.
I should add that the consultations on the development of this legislation have been ongoing since 1996. Canada has met with all affected provinces as well as other stakeholder groups such as the Union of British Columbia Municipalities and the Ontario Association of Cottage Owners.
The framework agreement that this bill provides is a win-win-win situation. The first nations communities win; they obtain the flexibility they need to build their economies. The government wins because the bill reduces the minister's day to day involvement in the routine decisions of land management and it meets the government's objectives of helping to build the capacity for self-government in first nations. The local non-aboriginal communities also win as the first nations begin to generate jobs and economic growth on Indian land, thereby contributing to the broader economy.
I thank all hon. members for providing lively discussion and understanding and I ask them to join me in supporting this very worthwhile bill.