Mr. Speaker, I fully support Bill C-14, the Tlicho land claims and self-government act, legislation that will enact the Tlicho agreement. I believe that this agreement serves as an important milestone in the evolving relationship between Canada and the aboriginal people.
It is true that there are gaps that separate first nations, Inuit, Metis and northerners from other Canadians, such as health and economic opportunity. We must do more to ensure that Canada's prosperity is shared by Canada's aboriginal people. The situation has begun to improve.
Private companies are partners with first nations, Inuit, Metis and northerners in some of the largest economic development projects in the country. The Government of Canada negotiated land claims and self-government agreements that enable aboriginal groups to fulfill their potential.
Bill C-14 is a case in point. This legislation will provide the Tlicho with access to resources, legal status, and the governance mechanisms it needs to develop socially, economically and culturally.
While my esteemed colleagues have addressed various aspects of Bill C-14 and the Tlicho agreement, I will focus my comments on the bill's effects on entrepreneurship. Its fostering of entrepreneurship is key to the economic and social development of all communities, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike.
Unfortunately, for many years the entrepreneurial spirit has not supported the aboriginal communities. Isolated from the mainstream economy and with limited access to resources, many of these communities had little choice but to rely on the public purse.
Today, however, the situation has improved dramatically. Land claims and self-government agreements enable aboriginal communities to access the resources needed to prosper. Training programs ensure that young people can acquire the skills they need to succeed and venture capital funds enable entrepreneurships to access the money needed to explore emerging opportunities.
Bill C-14 will support this entrepreneurial spirit among the Tlicho in numerous ways. The bill clarifies the ownership of land and resources, giving the Tlicho people more tools to foster economic development in their traditional territory.
In addition, the Tlicho will receive more than $150 million paid out over a period of 14 years. These payments will enable the Tlicho to support the growing number of band owned businesses.
I understand, for instance, that the Tlicho are investigating the possibility of hiring aboriginal artists to create unique jewellery using diamonds from the mines in the Northwest Territories. Such an undertaking requires substantial venture capital and may not yield a profit for several years. Once Bill C-14 is proclaimed, the Tlicho will be better positioned to assume the risk and invest the capital.
As members are aware, the Tlicho people have already demonstrated remarkable business acumen. They have negotiated and maintained agreements for two large diamond mines in the region. Under these agreements the Tlicho receive access to jobs, training opportunities and scholarship investments.
When the Tlicho people secured these agreements, they recognized that they would benefit only for as long as the diamond mines operated. To derive long term benefits from short term projects the Tlicho co-founded a company with ATCO Frontec, a private business with a history of successful aboriginal partnerships.
The joint owned company, Tli Cho Logistics, provides service to northern mining projects. Initially, the Tli Cho Logistics company employed Tlicho people as unskilled labours. ATCO Frontec hired others to staff administrative and managerial positions. Over a period of several years however ATCO Frontec will train Tlicho staff for these skilled positions. Eventually, the Tlicho, who own 51% of Tli Cho Logistics, will assume control over the company.
This agreement ensures that when the diamond mines close, the Tlicho will have the expertise and experience needed to develop or bid on projects in other sectors, such as hydro electric, oil, gas and tourism.
The partnerships benefit everyone. ATCO Frontec establishes a thriving company that generates profits for its shareholders. The Tlicho acquire expertise and Canada gains another enterprise that contributes to the economy.
There can be little doubt that negotiated settlements, such as the Tlicho agreement have a significant and positive impact on the economy, but do not take my word for it. Consider a recent report by the respected accounting firm of Grant Thornton. The report analyzed the economic impact of negotiated settlements in British Columbia and stated that treaties deliver “a large net positive financial and economic benefit for British Columbia”.
A second study describes the importance of negotiated settlements from a different perspective. The B.C. Treaty Commission surveyed 141 companies, including 118 that are headquartered in British Columbia. One in four respondents said that companies had plans to invest in the province within the next five years if a significant number of land claims were settled.
Let us consider for a moment the ramifications that these findings have for Canada's economic policy. It is increasingly clear that negotiated settlements have substantial impacts well beyond the community level.
Today, first nations, Inuit, Métis and northerners are involved in every sector of the economy. Some of the largest projects underway in Canada, diamond and nickel mines and oil sands, were made possible only because of agreements negotiated with aboriginal communities. The economic benefits of these projects ripple throughout the economy.
In this context, it should come as no surprise that first nations, Inuit, Métis and northerners' issues have an increasingly prominent place in the business of the House. After all, there is only one economy and the more aboriginal people participate and contribute to the economy, the better all Canadians will be.
The Prime Minister recognizes the numerous obstacles that hamper the ability of first nations, Inuit, Métis and northerners to participate in the economy. To remove these obstacles and promote greater cooperation among the various departments and agencies with aboriginal people, the Prime Minister restructured the upper echelons of government. Today there is a parliamentary secretary, a privy council office, a secretariat, and a cabinet committee, all devoted to aboriginal affairs.
Other recent actions demonstrate the government's intention to follow through on its commitment to aboriginal people. In the Speech from the Throne the government outlined a strategy to address aboriginal education, governance, housing and health care. The strategy calls for the removal of impediments to economic development for first nations, Inuit, Métis and northern communities. It targets improvements in health care, physical infrastructure and training programs. It aims to facilitate access to tools and mechanisms needed to foster self-sufficiency and sustainability at the community level.
The strategy recognizes that quality of life is about much more than economic levels and access to social services. Quality of life is also about the strength of community bonds. It is about the links between young and old, rich and poor, citizens and governments.
Bill C-14 also recognizes these truths and will put the Tlicho people firmly in a position to enhance the quality of life of its citizens. Decisions on local issues, such as land use, culture and education, will be made by the people most familiar and most affected by these matters.
I am convinced that Bill C-14 would enable the Tlicho to safeguard their culture and increase their contribution to the economy. I urge my hon. colleagues to lend their support to this important legislation.