House of Commons Hansard #99 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-37.


Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.



Lynn Myers Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member opposite. It is fair to say that he made some very excellent points with respect to Bill C-37. I want to congratulate him for that.

I also want to congratulate the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Under his steady hand and leadership, he has been able to bring this bill forward and make the kind of inroads and efforts that are required in this all important area.

This is a very important area that deals exclusively with reserve land proposals that arise under claim settlements, either existing or in the future both in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. As such, it is very important not only in those two provinces, but it sets the right tone across Canada. The minister and the government need to be congratulated because it underscores our commitment to do the right things in this very important area.

As the opposition is saying right now to the minister that he did a good job, I too want to add to that. I think it is excellent and really well worth noting.

What would the member opposite scope out as being the most important aspect of the bill? He referenced his own province and other areas in the west. If we listened closely to what the member said, it was very wise. Could he expound a little further on that and give us more insight? Especially given the fact that he is from Manitoba and knows some of these things, it would be insightful for us to hear a little more from the member for Winnipeg Centre.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
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12:50 p.m.


Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, as uncomfortable as I am with that kind of introduction, I do not mind speaking a little longer about a bill in which I see a lot of good qualities.

To take the hon. member's question seriously, the most important single thing that Bill C-37 could do is alleviate the backlog of unsettled claims that exist on the two prairie provinces so that we could use our energy and resources in a more positive way and take serious concrete steps toward the larger issue of aboriginal self-government. In other words, the sooner we rid ourselves of these bureaucratic, almost nuisance claims, where we have lawsuit piled upon lawsuit waiting for resolution. Ten, twenty or thirty years go by, generations go by before first nations communities can avail themselves of the land to which they are entitled by court order. However with third party complications they simply cannot address it.

That would be the first single biggest advantage that I see. In Manitoba we are managing to cut through some of that bureaucratic backlog that has piled up on people's desks. If we can accomplish that for the 30 first nations in Alberta and the 14 first nations in Saskatchewan, who support the bill and endorse this process, that in itself would be progress, and I support that.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.


Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, just so that we do not get too carried away in thanking and complimenting the government in the interest of keeping some balance, I certainly agree that the bill before us today addresses a backlog that has been created, which is a very positive sign. I know this is a very common concern that has been voiced by first nations about the amount of bureaucracy, paperwork and process that these issues have had to go through.

However we also need to recognize that there are many other issues that need to be addressed within first nations governance and within the claims process.

The member is very knowledge on this issue as our critic for aboriginal affairs. Could he comment on whether he thinks there are any aspects of this bill that could applied, for example, in British Columbia where I know there have been a lot of issues around the treaty negotiation process and claims process. Does the hon. member think there are other things that could be undertaken, as a result of the bill, to address concerns that have been put forward by first nations?

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.


Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Vancouver East for the opportunity to expand on that point somewhat. Had I had more time in my original speech, I would have pointed out that we have some reservations about the bill. One aspect of the bill we are critical of is a recurring theme that we see in much of the legislation introduced by the government. It expands and enhances the powers of the minister.

This is such a recurring theme that I cannot think of one piece of legislation in the four years I have been in the House of Commons in which the Liberal Party, the government party, has not sought to expand the discretionary authority or discretionary power of the minister. I remind ministers and others that they will not always be ministers.

Even if I have no personal problem with the current minister of aboriginal affairs having expanded authority because there might be a sense of trust there, God forbid we could look at a day when the official opposition might be the government and the powers of people vehemently opposed to aboriginal self-government might have been expanded. They might use that power in a way that we would not be satisfied with at all. We have to consider that as the powers of the current minister of aboriginal affairs are expanded.

We are dealing with a situation where the official opposition is on record saying things like the famous quote of the aboriginal affairs critic for the Reform Party about living on an Indian reserve being like living on a South Seas island being supported by a rich uncle. That was the attitude we heard put forward by the Reform Party, now the Canadian Alliance.

I want to be accurate because I do not want to misrepresent what the member for Athabasca actually said, but he said that we should not say we did not defeat those people just because we did not beat them in a war, that they are in fact vanquished; otherwise we would not have been able to force them on to these godforsaken little reserves they live on. That is the tone of the comments we get from the Canadian Alliance, from the official opposition, when it comes to aboriginal issues.

I caution the government and the ruling party. As it enhances the powers of the minister perhaps they should be sunsetted just in case there is a change of government some day and that authority or that power could be abused.

I do not know if I am out of time, but the hon. member asked me about the British Columbia experience. We have been dealing with the occupation of lands in the Sun Peaks area in the interior of British Columbia. We have met with the aboriginal leadership in the interior and the Kamloops band in that area.

Many outstanding issues will not be affected or enhanced or even improved in any way, shape or form by this legislation, but we hope the sentiment expressed in the legislation will have a desirable effect on other outstanding issues in other provinces.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
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12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, some of the last comments made by the member for Winnipeg Centre seem unfortunate. I certainly have no idea how dredging up things from years and years gone by, probably taken out of context, has anything to do with building and being positive.

As the first ever Reform Party member elected to the House of Commons in 1989 I remind the member for Winnipeg Centre that I taught school on a reserve at Frog Lake. I had several native foster children in my home. I was a lighthouse for the Reform Party. I tell him that there is sweet nothing to be gained by this kind of behaviour and debate in the House of Commons.

Let me tell him exactly what the Canadian Alliance position is in its policy paper. It states:

Our position in land claims negotiations will be to ensure respect for existing private property rights, affordable and conclusive settlement of all claims, and an open and transparent process involving all stakeholders.

Is that not what the NDP just said? Is that not in some measure what the government is trying to do right now? That is what we should be discussing right now.

On behalf of members of the Canadian Alliance, the official opposition, as someone who has represented them for quite some time, and on behalf of every member of the House of Commons, it is foolish to even go down that path. Shame on them.

Let me get to the bill at hand, Bill C-37, and talk a bit about some of the pros and cons in that legislation. Obviously there is a history in this regard. The minister talked about it earlier this morning. If we had any choice it would have been to have the bill longer because there is so much to study in it. It was just brought in last week. I know that it was to be debated this coming Thursday, but because of Bill C-33 respecting the Nunavut water board and tribunal this bill is coming into the House earlier today.

So keen was I to make sure that I did get something to say about it, I travelled on the all-nighter last night so I arrived here at about 8.25 this morning. I am glad to be here while we are participating in this debate. I am also glad that we can change our flights around.

If we look at the history in this regard, the minister alluded to the Manitoba land claims agreement and made some changes to that as well. That came in, in 2000. To be able to make changes to that legislation to tighten it up, to make it more efficient and more streamlined, as the minister said, is a good thing. With the ongoing land claim settlements we need to be able to make sure they are swiftly and positively resolved. If this bill is in any way able to do that it is a good thing, not just for first nations but also for third party stakeholders. The minister talked about them.

Life is a balance. We always need to be able to come up with some sort of a balance that we can strike with regard to the stakeholders, whether in oil, gas, minerals or whatever, on reserve land or on future reserve land, as the minister talked about.

Let us look for a few moments at some of the general observations of the bill. Native reserve claim settlements normally require the accommodation of existing third party interest. That is there already.

Before land can be set apart for reserve creation or expansion the existing third party interests on that piece of land must be cleared either by buying out that land and cancelling it, or by accommodating the interest in a manner agreeable to Canada, the particular first nation and the third party. Only after that can the land be transferred to the government for reserve purposes.

Again that process looks like it is a good one, but of course the trick is how lengthy that process can be become. I think my colleague said that it could go on for years and years, sometimes even a generation for sure. Usually the additions to the reserve process takes between one and three years, but all kinds of outstanding land claim settlements can go on for many years.

Hopefully Bill C-37 will speed up that process. It would allow a first nation to consent to the creation of interests on land proposed for reserve status rather than waiting until after the land has been purchased by the federal government and granted reserve status.

We look at the timelines on it, give checkmarks and say that is a good thing.

We have to look at some of the pros and a few of the cons in the particular bill. We need to draw a column. It seems to me we all do that in our lives when we have a decision to make. We look at the pros and the cons. Then we weigh them off against each other because life is obviously just a series of tradeoffs and balances.

Some of the pros are that Bill C-37 would allow the minister to set lands apart for reserve creation expansion rather than doing this by the more time consuming order in council. Not only will this hasten the settlement of outstanding reserve claims, but with the large numbers of reserve creation orders expected in the future this will also avoid taxing the order in council process. I am sure that gets to be fairly lengthy on its own.

We could flip that pro into a con and say that as with so much legislation, as the member for Winnipeg said, the minister seems to get a great deal of power regardless of who is in power. We have to make sure that there are checks and balances on the power of the minister.

I am sure the minister would agree with that. We have both sat in the House for many years. It would be a pity to think that he would become omnipotent or something like that. I am sure he would never want that to happen. We have to make sure we balance out the pro with the con in that regard. Yes, it does give the minister more power, but let us make sure that there are checks and balances.

The predesignation provision allowing a first nation to consent to third party interest on land proposed for reserve status will significantly reduce the time required for Saskatchewan and Alberta to fulfill their reserve expansion commitments. Dear knows this whole process goes on and on. Perhaps the bill can hurry that process along, again making sure that all aspects are taken into consideration and that all stakeholders and third parties, regardless of what their interests are, are not getting the short end of the stick or shafted in any way on either side.

A speedier implementation process would encourage on reserve economic activity benefiting the first nation and provide commercial certainty for the third party that has an interest in proposed reserve land during the transfer process.

What a smart thing it is to have economic development on reserves. Hopefully the idea of complete dependence on government is waning across the nation. For first nations and reserves to be totally dependent on government is not a happy situation for anyone. None of us like to be completely dependent. If this in any way gives economic self-sufficiency or economic development for reserves across the land, it would certainly be seen as a good thing.

The legislation accommodates existing third party interests to give the first nations the opportunity to welcome new interests during the reserve creation process. It is interesting that while the bill is before the House we are talking about the pipeline in the Northwest Territories. That is also important.

All the kinks have not been worked out of it. That is for sure, but as we are watching this process evolve right now there are private oil companies which are taking in the aboriginal community in a one-third profit sharing idea. That whole idea of economic development cannot hurt anyone for sure. It is interesting that those events are going along a parallel track to make sure that third party interests really are considered and yet they are able to share the benefit of using native lands as well.

This will give the first nations a chance to select commercially viable lands for reserve expansion rather than simply those lands which are already cleared of existing interests. Again, that appears to be a benefit.

We have a couple of concerns. I have already mentioned the explicit one, not total but certainly more power for the minister. We need to make sure we keep that in check.

Although we support facilitating a quicker resolution of first nation claim settlements, we have concerns regarding the effects of the legislation on third party stakeholders with interest on proposed reserve lands.

I just mentioned the pipeline through the north coming down into Canada. Alaska also wants to get in on that. However, to make sure we are not all on one side or the other, there needs to be a balance. As I have said many times in my remarks as well as in the past, we need to make sure that there is concern for both sides here, that we do not just take off our glasses and say we want this side or that side to benefit. It needs to be mutually beneficial.

That is the only way in life it works. To me it is the only way this piece of legislation can work. We have to work together and make sure we get the aboriginal community as well as the third party stakeholders to the table.

We are not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes or pull a quick one and say to them that they have missed their chance, because we know these things always have ramifications. Sooner or later those concerns will come up, or there will not be any goodwill for third party stakeholders to even work with the government or to believe that a piece of legislation like this will really help them. We want to make sure that the third party stakeholders feel they are being listened to, that they, as well as the first nations, are being given not just the benefit of the doubt but the benefit of the whole situation, because I know that many of them over the years have had concerns that they have been railroaded or whatever.

Again, the minister has a huge responsibility to live up to. I know there are frustrations across the country right now and he faced frustrations this summer. These surely are difficult times for him to be working through. I know he will realize how important it is to strike that balance. We in the official coalition are in the opposition now, but sooner or later, as the member said, someone else will be in government and we want to make sure that there are reasonable and rational processes in place, as well as transitions that would take place for any government of the day.

I know the minister understands that because when he and I first started in the House we were sitting in the opposition corner. The opposition coalition wishes him well with this. I suppose if we can give any advice or caution it would be to make sure that he deals with this sensitively on both sides of the issue. I know it is a tough tightrope to walk but at the same time I do believe it is important. If he does not, obviously down the road he will end up with problems far more serious than those he is facing now.

The opposition coalition gives qualified support. We say to the government that we want to move ahead with these land claims settlements and we trust that this Alberta-Saskatchewan land claims agreement, which is modelled after Manitoba's, will go well, that it will go speedily and that we will see some true benefits both for the first nations and the third party stakeholders.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
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1:10 p.m.


Gérard Binet Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House on Bill C-37, claims settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) implementation act. I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of this proposed legislation.

At first glance this may appear to be a somewhat technical bill, with limited scope and applicability but first impressions can be deceiving. The reality is that the changes proposed in this legislation--as minor as they may appear--will have a big impact on first nations communities throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Hon. members should know that Bill C-37, when it becomes law, will make a difference in the lives of first nations people and communities. It will make a difference to landowners, developers and people who live and work near existing reserves.

What is so important about this proposed legislation? After all, the existing process for adding lands to reserves works, does it not? It is a little slow and cumbersome but the job gets done.

If that is the approach we wish to take, then yes, the current process does work, but it hardly works well. In fact, it is severely impeding progress in resolving outstanding settlement commitments that have been made to first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan--some of which date back a decade or more.

Let me state for the record that this in not the approach this government intends to take. We are not prepared to accept the status quo because first nations deserve and want better, and Canadian taxpayers as a whole deserve a more efficient process.

The government intends to move quickly in fulfilling Canada's commitments to aboriginal people. This is really what Bill C-37 is all about.

“Gathering Strength”, our response to the report of the royal commission on aboriginal peoples, included a number of specific commitments. Notable among these was a pledge to honour Canada's treaties signed with aboriginal people.

This goes to the very heart of Bill C-37 because the key objective of this proposed legislation is to implement better, more expeditious ways to meet our reserve expansion commitments, most of which arise out of treaty land entitlements.

Perhaps some history is in order to help put this issue into perspective. As members will know, between 1874 and 1906, the Government of Canada signed several numbered treaties with first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan. As a general rule, these treaties required Canada to allocate reserve land to a first nation based on its population--generally, the first nation was to receive a certain acreage for each family group.

For one reason or another, many first nations involved in this treaty making process did not receive the full amount of land promised to them. In some cases, the shortfall can be blamed on inaccurate counts of band members; in other instances, not enough land was set apart when a reserve was first surveyed.

Regardless of the cause, there is no question that insufficient amounts of reserve lands were provided to some first nations. Therefore, while some of the treaty land entitlement obligations were fully satisfied long ago, many first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan did not historically receive their full land entitlement.

These century old injustices must be resolved and our government has been tackling the problem with renewed energy over the past several years.

Treaty land entitlement settlement agreements have been signed with six first nations in Alberta. In Saskatchewan, a treaty land entitlement framework agreement is in place covering most of the affected first nations, and several others have signed individual agreements. In total, 36 first nations in the two provinces are encompassed by these agreements.

Clearly the will exists on all sides to move forward on this issue. Appropriate resources have been earmarked for these settlements by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan. First nations have been identifying lands they would like to add to their reserves. However, despite the best of intentions and the full co-operation of all parties, this is where progress has bogged down.

Almost invariably, the lands being selected by first nations have existing third party interests. Under the terms of claim settlements, these interests must either be cleared or accommodated in a way that is satisfactory to everyone involved before the lands can be added to a reserve.

Unfortunately, with the exception of the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act and, to a lesser extent, the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act, existing federal laws simply are not geared to accommodating third party interests with any degree of certainty or timeliness.

In fact, the current additions to reserve process create a classic catch 22 situation. Third party interests must be addressed before lands can be granted reserve status. But with the exceptions I just noted, first nations can only agree to permit a third party interest on land that is already part of a reserve.

The end result is that processing selected lands into reserve status takes a great deal of time and energy, which is one reason why settlements signed some time ago are not yet fully implemented.

Bill C-37 will address this situation by providing for more efficient and commercially certain ways to accommodate third party interests. Essentially, a first nation will be able to consent to such an interest--either existing or new--before lands have been granted reserve status.

Recent experience has shown that the sooner third-party interests can be resolved, the quicker lands can be added to a reserve, and the quicker first nations can begin to reap the economic benefits associated with those lands.

It is interesting to note that the catalyst for Bill C-37 was a commitment by Canada to recommend such legislation under treaty land entitlement settlements concluded in 1998 with the Alexander First Nation and the Loon River Cree First Nation.

In other words, the proposed legislation is fulfilling commitments to specific first nations, while at the same time addressing longstanding issues of concern for more than 30 other first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Bill C-37 extends beyond the scope of treaty land entitlement agreements. With the approval of first nations and the affected provincial governments, the legislation has been crafted in such a way that it may benefit any other existing or future claim settlements containing reserve expansion commitments in both provinces.

For example, Canada also has reserve expansion commitments arising out of specific claims settlements in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Although these commitments involve significantly less land than treaty land entitlement settlements, they present the same implementation difficulties.

I want to emphasize that the bill is not being forced on any first nation in Alberta or Saskatchewan. It would apply on a per claim basis, and only when the affected first nation agrees to opt in to its provisions. First nations that wish to continue to add lands to their reserves using existing processes will be free to do so.

In closing, let me say once again that Bill C-37 is an implicit part of this government's commitment under “Gathering Strength” to address Canada's historical obligations to aboriginal people and to pave the way for their greater economic self-reliance.

The bill would also strengthen the capacity of first nations governments to make decisions about lands selected for addition to reserves under claim settlements in a way that is effective, timely and accountable to their membership.

Bill C-37 would help Canada move beyond historic grievances with first nations people while ensuring that past agreements were honoured and fulfilled. It is a positive step into the future, a step that is supported by first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan and by the governments of these provinces. It clearly deserves the support of this House as well.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
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1:20 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by answering the questions from the opposition parties. I think I can deal with virtually all of them, which I hope will speed the process through committee.

I was of course delighted to hear the member from the coalition talk about the futility of dredging up the past. I eagerly look forward to seeing how the Alliance and the coalition bring that sentiment into question period today.

The NDP and the Bloc were basically in support of the bill and outlined some of its good points. Several questions came up, mostly from the official opposition, and I will address some of those points. The first point was about providing the public with more and better information on some of the concepts. My colleague from the NDP did a very good job of that. For people who may not have been aware of them, he explained some of the provisions in the bill.

The opposition member mentioned that one definition that is not covered is specific claims. Just so members know, these are items that come up over and above the regular treaty obligations, which may have come up over the years as isolated incidents that do not hold up under the Indian Act and that we have to deal with.

The second point the member for the official opposition mentioned was related to municipal claims. He specifically mentioned SARM, but SARM has been involved along the way with these claims and has been dealing with the government in a good working relationship. SARM is quite familiar with the claims. Although it is not an issue in Alberta, there have been claims by municipalities, school boards and other taxing authorities for alleged loss of tax revenues due to establishment under a claims settlement.

However in Saskatchewan the tax loss issues were dealt with in two ways. For Saskatchewan, the treaty land entitlement framework provides that Canada and Saskatchewan shall contribute equally to a fund which is to be used to compensate rural municipalities. It also compensates school boards for tax losses experienced as a result of reserve expansions under that agreement. For the specific claim settlements which the member for the opposition mentioned, tax loss is largely the responsibility of the government of Saskatchewan by virtue of a bilateral agreement signed in 1999 between Saskatchewan and Canada. This is well in hand. I hope the member will be happy that it has been dealt with.

The last point he raised is related to mineral claims. He is right when he says that in some cases mineral claims will revert to the crown for the benefit of the first nation. That is good because that will help first nations economic development.

That is all I can remember of the member's points. If there were any others perhaps the member could bring them up in question period, because if all the questions have been dealt with hopefully the bill will go quickly through committee.

There was a point brought up by the NDP and the coalition that related to the powers of the minister, in particular the powers to allow the minister to make these decisions as opposed to having an order in council. This was requested by a number of first nations and also will speed up the process of this administrative function so that they can get on with their economic development with these third party interests.

The last point I want to comment on relates to the pipeline. It was mentioned by the coalition. Because the Alaska gas pipeline would go through my riding, I am delighted that this was raised. There would be great benefits for aboriginal people through employment and perhaps in taxes in different parts of the north, but in the Northwest Territories and Yukon there are different legal regimes, different treaty regimes, so it is not that relevant to those areas.

However, if it goes through Alberta through the natural gas pipeline which would bring Alaskan gas from Prudhoe Bay through Alaska and the Yukon, and if it happens to go through a reserve, it could possibly apply and once again would help first nations speed up their economic development with those added assets.

This is important legislation not only for the first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan but for all residents of those provinces and indeed for all Canadians. I would like to take a few minutes to explore the issues of how changes proposed in Bill C-37 would foster economic development in the affected first nations communities. I want to focus on this because it is a fundamental argument in favour of the proposed legislation.

I think hon. members on all sides of the House would agree it is vitally important that aboriginal communities from coast to coast to coast have opportunities to become more fully engaged in the Canadian economy. A strengthened aboriginal economy would help to address the many difficult issues that face first nations and Inuit communities across the nation. That is not to say that progress has not been made already. I can cite dozens of examples of successful aboriginal companies. In fact, there are more than 18,000 aboriginal owned businesses in Canada, ranging from small home based enterprises to multimillion dollar companies that do business around the world. Many of these are located on first nations reserves where they not only provide essential goods and services but are a vital source of employment and revenue.

The aboriginal community is diverse and vibrant. Aboriginal businesses operate in all sectors of the economy. They include resource industry firms, transportation and construction companies and retail and service outlets. They include manufacturing operations, management consultants, computer companies, arts and crafts enterprises and environmental and cultural tourism businesses.

However, more needs to be done to foster economic development in aboriginal communities, particularly on reserves. Despite the progress that has been made over the past couple of decades, aboriginal people continue to be among the most economically disadvantaged of all Canadians. There is still far too large a gap between the employment rates among first nations people and among other Canadians.

First nations still face special barriers to economic development, including legal obstacles, lower levels of education and lack of business experience and capital. These barriers are affecting social conditions in reserve communities. They are affecting families and children, and the effects are not positive ones.

What does all this have to do with Bill C-37? In my mind, having a sufficient land base upon which to engage in economic activity is the key to achieving prosperity in first nations communities. Since the claim settlements that would be facilitated by this proposed legislation concern reserve expansion, these settlements are an incredibly important vehicle for supporting aboriginal economic development. Treaty land entitlement and specific claim settlements do more than address past wrongs of first nations people. They pave the way for a better economic future by providing a secure land base and, in some cases, a financial package that can be used by the claimant group to fund economic development activities.

As consideration of the bill progresses, we will hear repeatedly of the legal and technical obstacles in the current additions to reserves process, which are impeding progress in implementing settlement agreements. These obstacles have resulted in an enormous backlog of commitments to add lands to reserves in Alberta and Saskatchewan, a backlog that is certain to grow unless action is taken to address some of the basic underlying problems. This is the objective of Bill C-37.

The proposed legislation would expedite and facilitate the additions to reserves process in two ways: first, by authorizing the minister rather than the governor in council to confer reserve status on lands and, second, by introducing new and better ways to accommodate third party interests in lands that are being converted to reserve status under claim settlements in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

I would like to consider three ways in which these elements of the bill would encourage economic activity in reserve communities. First and foremost, the proposed legislation would demonstrate to investors and others who engage in activities on lands proposed for reserve status that transactions can be concluded with greater predictability for both the first nation and third parties.

Hon. members can appreciate that certainty and stability are prerequisites for economic development. Regardless of whether an activity would be taking place in a reserve community or in downtown Edmonton or Regina, Bill C-37 would provide businesses and investors in Alberta and Saskatchewan with certainty of tenure for any third party interest they might hold in lands to be added to a reserve. It would also provide the certainty businesses need to negotiate new commercial arrangements with first nations communities.

Equally important is that the changes proposed in Bill C-37 would significantly reduce the amount of time needed to process lands into reserve status. Dealing with third party interests under the current process is problematic and time consuming. Sometimes it takes up to two years or more. This would all change if Bill C-37 becomes law. Because lands would be selected and added to reserves more quickly, the lands themselves and the revenues generated from any third party interests preserved on them would contribute to more immediate economic and social progress in the community. In fact, the pre-designation powers included in Bill C-37 would allow first nations to begin to enjoy these economic rewards even before the selected lands have been granted reserve status.

Finally, I support the bill 100% because making the accommodation of third party interests easier would give first nations access to a broader range of land that has development interests or potential. I think the member from one of the opposition parties mentioned that positive point.

In other words, these changes would facilitate the selection by first nations of commercially viable lands rather than lands that are simply unencumbered by existing interests. As first nations acquire better lands we can expect to see increased economic activity in these communities.

Although this proposed legislation may appear to be minor in the overall scheme of government activities, I do not think we should underestimate its impact. The vast majority of land selections under claim settlements in Alberta and Saskatchewan would be affected by one or more third party interests, whether that be a right of way for an access road, resource rights or a leasehold. Bill C-37 would have the potential to come into play for virtually every one of these claims. With the likelihood of even more settlements in the years ahead, the legislation's importance to the additions to reserve process in Alberta and Saskatchewan would only increase over time.

Obviously I am very supportive of the proposed legislation. I believe Bill C-37 would contribute to improved quality of life in first nations communities throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan. It would contribute to a growing economic base to support first nations self-government and it would help first nations communities further distance themselves from economic dependency on government.

Bill C-37 is yet another step the government is taking to live up to its commitments in “Gathering Strength”, including our commitment to support strong communities, people and economies. It is another step toward a better future for aboriginal people in Canada.

With these important benefits in mind, I would encourage hon. members to support the proposed legislation so it can proceed quickly through the House and to the other place.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
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1:35 p.m.


Murray Calder Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with a lot of interest to the speech of the member for Yukon and would like to tell him that in the past I have had a chance to work with the minister of Indian affairs. In 1995 we worked on the privatization of CN, so I see a lot of good things in Bill C-37 right now, having worked with the minister previously.

I would like the member to explain some points to me. In Bill C-37 I see basically a lot of components of the Manitoba land claims act and settlement. I would like him to explain to me what he would like to see when the bill goes to committee. There are some strong points in the bill. Could he highlight what points he would like to see drawn out in committee immediately to go along on this deal making process he was talking about?

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
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1:35 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, as a new member, I would like to know is why this particular member always asks me questions. I remember the first time I made a speech he asked me a question about farming and I am probably the least likely riding in the country to have farms. I thought he was on my side but this is a particularly good question.

I hope I have answered most of the questions that the opposition parties brought up. They made some good points. They supported things and brought up some concerns. I tried to elaborate on those points and I am anticipating that the bill will go through committee very quickly, especially since I happen to be on that committee. We are dealing with a number of other serious issues and complicated bills some of which are coming from my riding in the Yukon.

The most important point for people to understand is that because the land will be transferred to a reserve there could be economic considerations. As all the parties have said, it will be very beneficial for first nations. Hopefully most of this land has some good economic potential. Rather than waiting for the long protracted process of getting approval to do things and getting the certainty for the land, the businesses and the first nations can start right away and keep it economic.

That will help both the business and the first nations. From the first nations’ side, this land is in limbo because of all sorts of bureaucratic steps. For the businesses, especially if they already have interests on that land, they can continue to get quick revenue from that land without an interruption and without the uncertainty. They will just have a new landlord and they can continue to take in funds.

I hope it is brought up in that context as sort of an administrative bill but it has some very sweeping benefits that are so needed to develop the economies of first nations.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.



John Finlay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House on Bill C-37, the claim settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) implementation act.

I join the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in urging hon. members to recognize the merits of the legislation and to help us move it quickly through the legislative process. As the hon. member for Yukon mentioned, that means the committee. We are looking forward to getting it as soon as possible.

I, too, feel that it is an essential bill that would help very much in the recognition and respect for which our native people are looking and also in the economic development in which they want to partake.

As the minister made clear this morning, the bill addresses a number of commitments and goals consistent with the government's aboriginal agenda. It would affirm and honour treaties which are a cornerstone of Canada's relationships with aboriginal people. It would help foster economic development in first nations communities throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan so that the communities can become more self-sufficient and sustainable.

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of areas in your riding and mine, and in the ridings of many members on both sides of the House, that would benefit from extension of the act to all provinces. That may be something we will see within a short space of time.

It would facilitate the process by which Canada is living up to its commitments to the first nations people. It would accomplish all this primarily by ensuring that better means exist to recognize and accommodate third party interests in lands selected for additions to reserves in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In other words, the powers being accorded first nations under the proposed legislation do not come at the expense of any individual, business, institution or government, and that is often the sticking point in some of our negotiations.

In fact, the opposite is true. Bill C-37 would provide the certainty of tenure that third parties with existing interests need. The minister has stated that this is truly a win-win situation for the current backlog of current reserve expansion commitments in Alberta and Saskatchewan. At the present time there is close to a million hectares, which is 2.5 million acres, of land being considered for this very purpose.

It is a good solution for first nations because the pre-reserve designation and permit granting powers provided for under the legislation would allow them to select and acquire the best lands available, regardless of encumbrances, instead of taking what is left over and the worst lands available.

First nations would be able to enter into better agreements with third parties and more quickly which means that the economic benefits of land ownership will flow to communities sooner rather than later.

However, developers, investors and others who have third party interests in lands selected by first nations to fulfill a treaty land entitlement or specific claims agreement, would also benefit from the commercial certainty provided by Bill C-37.

I want to focus on the issue of accommodating third party interests for two reasons: first, it has been the main stumbling block to moving more quickly in meeting Canada's reserve expansion commitments in Alberta and Saskatchewan; and second, I know the protection of third party interests is an important consideration for hon. members on all sides of the House.

The minister has advised us that Canada currently has a commitment to add a million hectares. More such commitments will be made as additional claims are settled.

Land to fulfill these commitments is typically contributed from unoccupied federal or provincial crown lands. Alternatively the land may be purchased by the first nations on a willing seller, willing buyer basis. Herein lies the problem: the vast majority of land being selected by first nations for additions to reserves has existing third party interest.

These interests may range from rights of way and hydro line easements to mineral permits and leases, timber licences, commercial and residential leaseholds for tourism, recreation, vacations, et cetera.

Regardless of the nature of the interest, it must be accommodating in some way that is satisfactory to all parties: Canada, the first nation and the interest holder. This is one of the key issues that must be addressed under the federal additions to reserves process.

Unfortunately, as we have heard already, with the exception of the recently enacted Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act and the 1993 Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act, existing federal laws were not designed with the requirements of the additions to reserves process in mind. In other words, they are not geared to accommodate third party interest in a way that is either commercially certain or commercially expeditious.

Under the current provisions of the Indian Act, for example, a first nation can only consent to the creation of interest on reserve land if the land is already part of the reserve. This does not include land that is being merely proposed for reserve status. Of course first nations, like any land owner, can grant leases on land they own privately, but if a first nation wanted to transfer such land to Canada to be made into a reserve, any third party interests on the land could not legally be carried forward. They would have to be terminated and then reinstituted.

Land must exist as reserve land before leases or any other third party interests can be voted on by the membership of the first nation.

What this means is that a third party must surrender its interest in land, even if only temporarily, before the land can be added to a reserve. In exchange, the first nation at present is only able to offer the promise or undertaking that it will vote to re-grant that interest once the reserve is created. At the snail's pace that some negotiations move, that could be a long wait and someone might lose interest.

Most interest holders are understandably reluctant to do this because it puts their future rights at risk. As a result, the addition to reserve may be effectively stalemated and the affected first nation may have to abandon its preferred choice of land and accept land that has far less development potential.

Manitoba first nations have been released from this cumbersome process under the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act, providing the additions to reserves commitment arises out of a land claim settlement. The situation has also been addressed to some extent in Saskatchewan where the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act of 1993 allows first nations to consent to the granting of interest on lands that do not yet have reserve status.

However experience since 1993 has taught us that this power under the Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Act has not proven as advantageous as it could have been since it is limited to the granting of existing interest. It can only be used in treaty land entitlement situations, not in specific claim situations, and it can be only used when the first nation has already purchased the land.

Such limitations have been avoided in the wording of both the Manitoba Claim Settlements Implementation Act and the provisions of the present bill.

Bill C-37 would essentially extend the pre-designation powers now available in Manitoba to first nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Under this proposed legislation, a first nation will be able to consent to a third party land interest either existing or new during the reserve expansion process and indeed even before purchasing the land itself. In this way first nations will be free to then purchase the land knowing the encumbrances have been settled in advance and where they will not present a hurdle to reserve designation.

To achieve this, Bill C-37 borrows from a variety of existing federal legal mechanisms for granting third party interests but adjusts each in minor ways to facilitate their use when applied to additions to reserves. The effect will be to provide first nations and third parties with commercial certainty in their deal making while land is being processed as reserve land.

This new approach will help avoid situations where the first nation is forced to negotiate the buy-out and closure of an ongoing viable operation simply to clear the land of encumbrances, thereby forgoing any future revenues that might have been derived in terms of royalties or rents, or the holder of that third party interest is asked to risk temporarily surrendering that interest while a parcel of land is being processed into reserve status.

The bill will give developers and investors, both existing and potential, the assurances they need to enter into agreements with first nations. At the end of the day, both parties, the first nations community and the holder of the interest, will benefit from these business arrangements.

Hon. members can appreciate that these proposed changes are designed to make the additions to reserves process as smooth and simple as possible for all parties in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Bill C-37 will put real estate transactions related to reserve expansions on a level playing field with non-reserve transactions in these two provinces. At the same time it will provide clear-cut legal mechanisms for protecting third party interests in land selected for addition to a reserve.

Having said that, it is important to acknowledge that the first nations with claim settlement agreements in Alberta and Saskatchewan will not automatically be bound by this new legislation. First nations will have complete flexibility in deciding whether to opt into these provisions.

I assure hon. members that Bill C-37 will not impose any additional restrictions or requirements on land owners or third party interest holders. No land owner will be forced to sell property to a first nation to fulfill a claims settlement agreement nor will a third party interest holder be forced to enter into agreements with first nations. Both these types of transactions will continue to take place on the basis of a willing buyer and a willing seller. The bill simply allows agreements to be put in place where both parties desire it.

This is clearly a good piece of legislation. It will protect third parties while giving way for new partnerships with aboriginal communities. It deserves the support of hon. members and I urge them to join me in voting to send Bill C-37 to committee for review.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned that it would give first nations flexibility and I appreciate that. Will the local governments that will lose taxation on properties that are being acquired have flexibility in the service they have to provide under the current legislation?

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.


John Finlay Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand that is already covered in the legislation in Alberta and Saskatchewan. They would be a third party and have an interest in the land. Therefore, it would have to be agreed to.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, my understanding is that the third party is the individual or group of individuals from which the first nations are making the purchase. Having said that, once that land goes into reserve or into specified land claims, does the local government, the village or rural municipality have the flexibility in the services which it must provide under the act at the present time?

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.


John Finlay Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, the general answer is yes. Those services must be paid for, agreed to and provided on a willing basis. Otherwise DIAND has to step in and do something, as it has had to do in a number of areas. The member has made a very good point. In Saskatchewan right now I understand that is allowed and there is an agreement in place to compensate the municipality for the loss of that tax revenue.

Claim Settlements (Alberta and Saskatchewan) Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?