Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and speak in support of Bill C-23, the first nations fiscal and statistical management act. I have spoken on this bill before. In fact, I even had comment from people who are supportive, who are in the aboriginal community, and who want this bill and the tools that it offers. Not every aboriginal person has the same opinion, but that flexibility is introduced here.
The Prime Minister has talked about a new and strengthened relationship with aboriginal people, and a new approach to resolving the lingering and unacceptable disparity, the disparity described by members opposite and on this side that we are all trying to address. There is an unacceptable disparity between the quality of life of aboriginal people on the whole and other Canadians.
On April 19 we witnessed in the country an important milestone in our relationship with aboriginal people with the Canada aboriginal peoples round table. It was a gathering which was called by the Prime Minister. It brought together elders, the Prime Minister himself, aboriginal leaders, cabinet ministers from this government, and distinguished representatives from various aboriginal organizations in a forum to renew and strengthen our relationship with first nations people, Inuit and Métis. It laid the foundation for a new plan that would see, once and for all, aboriginal people enjoying a quality of life equal to that of their fellow Canadians.
The Prime Minister said at the time, and has said repeatedly, that Canada faces no greater challenges than those that confront aboriginal Canadians and that aboriginal people must participate fully in all that Canada has to offer, with greater self-reliance and an ever-increasing quality of life.
Bill C-23 is about fulfilling the government's commitment to aboriginal people. It is about working in partnership to remove obstacles to growth. It is about working to ensure that first nation people would have access to the tools for economic growth and prosperity, the same tools that my municipality would have that perhaps would not be taken up by the member for Churchill's municipality or your municipality, Mr. Speaker.
Different communities use different tools at their disposal, but they must have the range of tools to be considered truly equal to get the quality of life that is appropriate to all Canadians as well as the ability to select and not be prescribed to by any government. It is about respecting the ability of first nation people to find their own solutions and apply them in ways that make sense for their community.
Bill C-23 would offer to first nations many of the practical tools that are fundamental to fiscal growth, economic growth and self-reliance. It would offer investors the certainty they need to invest in first nation communities. The larger objective is to close the socio-economic gap. It makes sense to see that first nation people have the same potential to capture economic opportunities as other Canadians.
Overall, the bill would assist first nation communities to borrow on financial markets, facilitating access to low cost capital for investments in local infrastructure, and thereby attracting needed investment to first nation communities, the same kind of investment that my community has access to attracting and that competes with other communities.
The member from Scarborough is here. His community competes with other communities in Canada for investments. This ability to find the right tools and the right investment opportunities is something that is required by our communities and first nation communities.
Bill C-23 is part of a new approach which holds that first nations must be able to plan and direct their own economies for there to be real economic opportunity and lasting prosperity. The bill would establish four national institutions that would improve the quality of first nation government to address the social and economic well-being of their communities.
The first nations financial authority would provide the same access as non-aboriginal communities enjoy to sources of low cost capital such as through the bond market.
I would like to point out to hon. members that the proposal has been endorsed by major bond underwriters and credit raters. It is expected to allow first nation communities to raise $125 million in private capital over the first five years. In fact, it is based on the model that has been used in British Columbia whose debentures credit rating has surpassed even Canada's for some time now.
Gaining access to the bond markets would lower the cost of borrowing for first nations by 30% to 50% leaving more money in the community. More money, as the member for Churchill said, which is needed for the priorities of the community. It would leave more money in the community to pay for much needed capital infrastructure instead of paying higher interest rates.
The second institution, the first nations financial management board, would certify the credit worthiness of communities interested in gaining access to the investment pool. In fact, it would ensure and encourage adherence to sound financial management standards by participating first nations governments as would be expected by any other government.
The third institution is the first nations tax commission. This body would expand the role currently performed by the Indian taxation advisory board. It would allow first nations to strengthen their property tax systems.
Just as important, the bill would provide for greater input into rate setting and related issues for those who pay property taxes. Not everyone needs to pay property taxes. It would be a choice that communities would decide. Communities would make their own decisions. It would not be imposed by anyone. It would be a choice. Bill C-23 would offer options to communities.
Among the approximately 100 first nations that already have tax regimes in place throughout the country, we have seen how much can be accomplished with the development of a stable tax base.
Let us look at a few examples. The Millbrook first nation in New Brunswick has used its property tax powers to become one of the fastest growing economies in that province. The Squamish first nation used property tax revenues to build recreation facilities that are creating a very positive environment for children and youth. This is surely something that all of our communities desire. A new purification system at Westbank first nation is supporting both commercial and residential needs of first nation people and non-first nation people alike. Of course, there are many similar outstanding examples.
Moving on to the fourth institution, the first nation statistical institute, this institution would not only help improve the quality and relevance of information available to address aboriginal issues, it would also ensure that first nation decision makers could have access to the information. This would support decision making, make governments more accountable, and help ensure that resources go to where they are most needed.
I know my own community has talked about the importance of having accurate statistical information and ensuring that it is meeting the priorities of the community into the future.
Currently, first nations do not have at their disposal the basic statistical information available to the majority of Canadians, a situation which hinders their planning and the ability of first nations to make the most of economic opportunities. The statistical institute would collect existing data from a variety of sources to develop a complete, relevant and accurate statistical profile of first nations across Canada.
There is nothing in the bill that would oblige a first nation to participate in the new data collection activities. The institute would support first nations that wish to avail themselves of this service in building their capacity to understand and utilize the statistical information, in planning, decision making and negotiations. With that, first nations would have the necessary statistical information and management skills to help build a more certain future.
The four institutions established by Bill C-23 would offer first nations the tools they could use to attract investment, build infrastructure, create jobs and address social issues.
It is imperative that we address one extremely important issue. First nations would be accomplishing these goals on their own terms. The proposed legislation is a first nations' initiative. Its development has been led by first nations. The institutions that they would help create would ensure that first nations would play a lead role in long term development efforts.
Just as we see in the House different political parties that are supported by Canadians in my community and in communities right across this country, I am sure there are first nations people who disagree with the bill and disagree with the leadership that has worked to put it in place. That is the nature of Canada and the nature of democracy.
There will be first nation communities that choose not to use the institutions that are available because of the bill and that is okay; however, for the ones who wish to have these systems put in place, surely it is important that we allow them these tools.
The bill would mean that first nation communities would be able to develop partnerships with other governments and industry in order to strengthen their economies and to improve the quality of life for all of their members.
While the proposed legislation creates institutions, participation in them would be optional. Nobody is forcing any first nations to take part in something, for whatever reason, they may choose not to participate. This allows me to clarify other important principles behind the bill and to address legitimate concerns that have been raised in the House.
Bill C-23 does not in any way change the fundamental, historic relationship between the Government of Canada and first nation peoples. The intent of the bill is, first, to provide first nations with the opportunity to use the fiscal and statistical tools that are available to other governments in Canada in support of their efforts to improve the quality of life on reserve.
Second, the bill does not force first nations to tax or to borrow. First nations property tax powers have existed in the Indian Act since the 1988 amendments. Just as there are no directives to make taxing or borrowing mandatory now, there would be no directives issued in the future.
The development of the proposed statistical institute has been undertaken jointly with Statistics Canada. The institute would not duplicate or complement the excellent and world renowned work done by Statistics Canada. In fact, the institute would assist first nations with statistical information. First nations would be encouraged to participate more in the national statistical programs of Statistics Canada.
The Speech from the Throne identified the horrible conditions faced by many aboriginal communities as one of the most pressing issues facing our country today. The Prime Minister, in calling on April 19 the round table, reaffirmed the government's commitment to address those issues. The bill is about living up to our responsibilities, but responding with specific actions to match the expressions of common cause and goodwill that were expressed by many people at the round table.
We have a long road ahead, but we are confident that we are on the right path. The important thing is that we are on this path together with first nations, Inuit and Métis. We are mindful of the mistakes of the past but full of hope, goodwill, determination, and concrete action to arrive at a new destination and a better future for all.