Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the opposition motion regarding a financial reporting system for Canada's first nations. I want to put the whole issue into the context of how the government is working with first nations to create good governance and stronger accountability.
Across the country individual community members and the Canadian public are looking closely at first nations as they manage and deliver their own programs and services. They expect first nations governments to function in an accountable and effective way. They expect their tax dollars to be spent responsibly. The fact that most first nations manage their finances responsibly is a testament to both the determination of first nations to manage their resources well and the creation of a proper system of checks and balances.
First nations management systems are becoming increasingly important. Good governance brings certainty, stability and community well-being. Stable and effective government creates an environment conducive to economic growth. Sustainable governance structures and policies will ensure that first nations can manage economic change in an effective and responsible way.
The federal government is working with aboriginal partners to create and support more stable, transparent fiscal models and strong accountability processes which will strengthen the operations of aboriginal governments.
We know that economic development and self-sufficiency go hand in hand. It is key that we agree on a vision for the country that includes aboriginal people as active partners in our economy and that we agree to build a comprehensive plan for inclusion in Canada's economy, from infrastructure to resources to investment.
A common vision and strategic plan would open up vast new opportunities for all of us to pursue. One of the hallmarks of all of our government's policies is that economic and social success must be pursued together. We cannot lead in innovation and ideas without ensuring that we have healthy and secure citizens.
When it comes to good governance many first nations are leading by example. They are building capacity and putting into place new policies and procedures, from conflict of interest guidelines to human resources management policies that support sustainable and stable governance.
We are working on a number of initiatives to develop with the first nations sustainable governance arrangements for aboriginal people that are built on legitimacy, authority and accountability.
We are working with aboriginal people to explore financial issues at a national table on fiscal relations. This initiative could see for the first time the creation of four first nations public institutions.
First, the First Nations Finance Authority, FNFA, was created in 1995 by the Westbank first nation. Since then it has worked with an expanding circle of first nations to find ways and means by which first nations might use bonds, as do other governments, for access to longer term, more affordable financing. The circle has benefited from its partnership with an expert in the field, the B.C. municipal finance authority, which can secure bond financing at rates lower than the provinces.
The proposal would see the creation of a borrowing pool. Interested first nations may apply to be part of the borrowing pool and will need to demonstrate strong governance and financial management regimes to be accepted.
Legislation would be needed to give stability and legitimacy to the FNFA, and certainly to potential investors, that first nations have powers to borrow for these purposes. Qualifying first nations could look to increase their return on debt by 33% to 50%, which is a strong incentive for sound financial management.
The second is the First Nations Tax Commission. In 1988 the Indian Act was amended to allow interested first nations to enter the field of property taxation. Since then, 83 first nations have put tax bylaws into place and $163 million has been generated for local youth.
This change was realized through the significant efforts of former chief Manny Jules of the Kamloops first nation and members of the Indian Taxation Advisory Board, known as ITAB. Kamloops first nation has borrowed against these new long term stable revenue streams to make its breakthrough in economic development for its people.
It is now being proposed that ITAB become a tax commission. To do so, ITAB would assume powers held by the minister through a more transparent and streamlined management regime with greater taxpayer involvement.
The third is the First Nations Financial Management Board. The FMB is a new organization and its initial task would be to provide independent management assessment services required by first nations seeking entry into the FNFA borrowing pool.
Its role, however, could grow over time as it interacts and consults with first nation governments and administrators, external experts and other governments. It could evolve and build over time, much as ITAB's role has matured over past years.
The FMB would fulfil the need for a shared, sustained effort in setting standards and rethinking current accountability frameworks. Its work would complement the Aboriginal Financial Officer Association of Canada's professional development and support role.
Finally there is the First Nations Statistical Institute. As first nations operate more at arm's length with the Government of Canada, they need new statistical systems.
There are systems to support community decision making and accountability, and to relate to other levels of government. They are a prerequisite to developing new Canada-first nations transfer arrangements.
The FNSI would be partnered with, but separate from, Statistics Canada. This partnership would support an integrated national statistical system which would better meet the needs of first nations and Canada alike. It would facilitate the transfer of knowledge, experience and tools to FNSI.
These are exciting and practical developments. We expect to hear more about these in the months ahead as we seek the mandate to work toward legislation.
We have also put emphasis on capacity building. For example, almost all first nations communities completed accountability and management assessments last year, and the first ever designations were awarded for certified aboriginal financial managers.
The AFOA has made great strides in fulfilling a critical need for well-trained financial staff supported by a strong code of ethics which are fundamental to good governance.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is also leading a major review of its transfer payment business process by offering government online. This move would definitely improve the administration of transfer payments to first nations. The new system would be capable of handling a wide variety of first nations funding arrangements. Technology will play a major role in making this vision a reality.
There will be full automation, full electronic access to the system, online reporting and electronic access to the data and information needed to make the system work. The system will be driven by principles of transparency, disclosure and accountability. All these initiatives depend on building a new relationship and strengthening our partnership with aboriginal people.
It is through partnerships that we can most effectively pool our talents, our ideas and our resources. It is through partnerships that we can make real and lasting progress. We are addressing the issues and giving aboriginal people greater control over their own lives, and we have begun to see some positive results. The gap in living conditions between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people has narrowed. Education levels have improved. Unemployment has dropped and housing conditions and basic infrastructure from roads to water have improved.
There is no question that as we try to design this new modern relationship with aboriginal people, we must balance the past with the future and meet new economic challenges. We have our work cut out for us and it definitely will not happen overnight. However, we need to clear up some myths and misconceptions so that people understand that first nations people and the Inuit are contributing members of society and part of the broader Canadian family.
We need to demonstrate that first nations government are good governments run on sound principles and accountable to the people they represent. The measures we are developing to ensure greater accountability and good governance are a good start, and they are beginning to show real results. They recognize that all Canadians have a role to play in tackling the challenges facing aboriginal communities.