Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to speak in support of Bill C-23, the first nations fiscal and statistical management act, and against the motion that was introduced by the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.
Before going any further, I would like to say that I was listening to the speech by the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis a few minutes ago and I enjoyed the considerable eloquence for which he is so well known. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate him and thank him for his years of service to the public, his riding and of course all Canadians, here in the House of Commons.
I remember when this man—who today is the member for Lac-Saint-Louis—ran in a byelection in Chambly, I believe. I had the opportunity to go to his riding to listen to him during his nomination meeting. Unfortunately for us, the hon. member was not elected, but he ran again another time and has been with us ever since.
Nonetheless, unfortunately for us—perhaps not for him since he will undoubtedly have a very nice retirement—we will no longer hear his well-chosen words in the House of Commons once the election is called.
Once again, I would like to commend the hon. member and former provincial minister for his great speeches, which we will remember for a very long time; speeches that always come to mind when we are talking about individual rights. Hats off to the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis.
Now that I have taken a few minutes to pay tribute to the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, albeit inadequately since we could speak at length about his work, I will take a few minutes to discuss the substance of the bill now before the House.
Having praised the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, and rightly so, I am going to take a different point of view on this. Nonetheless, it says a lot about the greatness of the man and the respect he inspires that, even though we are not of the same opinion, we recognize today, just like every other day, the magnitude of his achievements, and of course of his commitment in general to all those he represented and will continue to represent for a little while longer here in the House of Commons.
I intend to vote in favour of the bill at third reading when it comes to a vote. We do not know when the vote will be because I understand a number of people on both sides intend to speak to the bill, some for and some against, but that is fair too.
I believe the parliamentary secretary, on countless occasions, has referred to the bill as being first nations-led. It perhaps is not with the agreement of everybody in that community but it is the genesis of it. I believe that is proof of the government's seriousness in fulfilling its commitment to first nations and aboriginal people.
Mr. Speaker, you and I will recall that in the Speech from the Throne the government restated its commitment to begin the difficult but essential work of renewing its relations with first nations. The government vowed to undertake a new and collaborative approach when working with aboriginal leaders. It pledged to rekindle the relationship based on trust and mutual respect.
The government also indicated clearly that fostering economic development in first nation communities and narrowing the gap in living standards between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people is a foremost priority, as it should be for everyone in this room. I think it is and I think it is for Canadians generally. I think every right minded Canadian wants a better life for the first citizens, their brothers and sisters of the first nations community in this country.
A number of significant steps have taken place to begin building a strong foundation for first nations economic progress. Let me give hon. members a few examples. Land claims have been negotiated. Self-government agreements have been signed. Together, first nations leaders and the federal government have taken action to support first nations entrepreneurs to attract investments and to create jobs in first nation communities.
When I was a minister of state and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, there was a period during which almost a majority of bills before the House dealt with Canada's aboriginal communities. Some very heated debates took place.
For example, I remember that a small group of parliamentarians from the other side submitted hundreds of amendments to the bill recognizing the Nisga'a community, in British Columbia. There were such ridiculous amendments as to change semicolons to commas, or change implementation dates. There have been hundreds of such examples. The purpose of this was to force parliamentarians to vote needlessly throughout the night in the House, thus delaying the implementation of an agreement signed by the Nisga'a community in British Columbia, the provincial government of British Columbia and the Government of Canada. Naturally, we held our own and the bill was passed.
I remember the bill on governance in the Yukon. The same people across the floor delayed the process. There was a large number of initiatives sponsored by aboriginal communities, or at least supported by a large number of people from that community. Again, the parliamentary process was slowed down for a while by those who were attempting to prevent this legislation from moving forward in the House.
I recall the bill on Nunavut. Nunavut, as we are all aware, is ably represented in this House by our colleague. I recall how greatly disappointed she was when certain members over there voted against that bill concerning the community she represents in this House. That bill was another recognition of the important role played by the aboriginal communities in that part of our big beautiful country. Considerable effort had to be made to counteract these attempts to slow down certain bills by filibustering.
As for the one before us today, similar attempts have been made to hold it up. Some of those responsible are seated in the House today. They tried to hold back a bill although it had considerable aboriginal support. Some may react by saying that perhaps it did not have the required 60% support. I wonder whether the member opposite would consider that a bill he supported, which had 51% of the member of the House on side, was of no value whatsoever. Of course not.
Just because this bill does not have 60% support does not mean it does not have the value of law in this House. I do, of course, acknowledge that this 60% criterion does exist under the regulations of the council of first nations for matters on which they will hold a vote. But that does not mean that we need to claim that same percentage applies in this House.
In recent years, the first nation economy has undergone a remarkable transformation in some parts of the country. Businesses owned by first nations now operate in a number of sectors of the Canadian economy. That is quite good, and we only hope that it will increase.
Although physical factors such as improved transportation links and communications technologies have contributed to this shift, I believe that one of the differences has been a change in attitude. Over the past years, a spirit of cooperation has grown among aboriginal and non-aboriginal citizens in public and private sectors alike.
I had an opportunity on a plane coming back from Quebec City one day. A couple on the plane was dressed in somewhat traditional attire that made it obvious they were of a first nations community. I engaged in an interesting conversation about how this couple had started a computer company and was enjoying quite a level of success. I could detect only a kind of optimism that was so obvious in these nice people, whom I have had the opportunity of meeting on a few occasions since, by the way. It was so refreshing. The only thought that came to my mind at that point was that I hope their success somehow can multiply itself thousands and thousands of times throughout the country so that many others can prosper where prosperity regrettably has not been there previously.
Having said this, though, it is also true that not all first nations have benefited from the increased cooperation that exists. Despite many positive strides forward, the economic and social conditions of obviously too many aboriginal communities remain extremely unwell, and I even would say unacceptable. C.T. (Manny) Jules, one of the principal architects of the legislation, articulated the root causes of this and said:
Today, a wall surrounds First Nation economies. It is a wall built by past legislation and policies. It is a wall of mistrust and dependency that traps us in our own poverty. Each additional year of dependency is another brick in this wall. This wall has not served Canada well. It has prevented us from participating in the economy.
To the members of this House who say that the bill is being rushed through, I must say I disagree with that analysis, because the bill has been under consideration for years; therefore, it is not being rushed through. In fact, some might say that the bill has been delayed, not hurried along.
Returning to Mr. Jules' idea, if we delay this bill any further, this additional delay, added to the previous one, will only serve to perpetuate even longer the conditions that are unacceptable to everyone, both those who are in favour of this bill and those who are opposed.
There are many who believe that Bill C-23 will help to dismantle that wall to which Mr. Jules referred. Bill C-23 is vitally important legislation that will help first nations to travel further on the road to prosperity and self-sufficiency, providing a way for first nation peoples to participate more actively in the Canadian economy and foster business-friendly environments while meeting the needs of their communities.
It is important to note that Bill C-23 was developed by first nations for first nations, recognizing, of course, that not everyone is in favour of it. The four institutions at the heart of the bill are the finance authority, the tax commission, the statistical institute, and the financial management board. They provide a foundation that will enable first nations to realize economic development according to their needs, their unique needs, because of course these kinds of structures are not replicated elsewhere in the economy. They have considerable differences.
This is a foundation which will ensure that first nation communities can become full partners in the Canadian federation. The practical tools at the heart of this legislation will help first nations to more easily acquire the funds they need to engage in capital infrastructure and of course we all know that is very badly needed in many of our communities.
Bill C-23 will also lead to greater and more effective decision making, enabling first nations to capitalize on existing business relationships as well as build new ones. Today, many first nations face economic disadvantages that must be corrected.
It is often said that the financial institutions are prepared to loan people money to set up a business, as long as they do not need it. That means, of course, that the financial institutions are looking for very solvent businesses in order to minimize their risks.
And if these businesses are that solvent, they will not likely need much help from the financial institutions. If they needed it, they would not be in that position, and they would have problems getting loans.
Research indicates that the cost of doing business on first nation land can be six times higher than in the rest of Canada, perhaps not everywhere, but I suppose it depends. I am using a law of averages. If the community is located in southern Canada perhaps that ratio is somewhat lower, but it is still expensive. This is because first nations communities lack the systems and public institutions that other local governments in Canada take for granted.
I could speak for a longer period, but my time is coming to an end.
Needless to say, when someone sets up a business, if there is no infrastructure or no sewers—if there are none of the things usually found in a village but rarely found in aboriginal communities—that is a very serious disadvantage.
Of course, that is only one example. Dozens more could be found, from urban planning and all the other elements that help develop the connections that can make businesses more successful.
I shall end my comments by congratulating the person temporarily in the chair, the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, for the quality of his comments, especially in the last few minutes. Usually he sits behind me. I want to thank him for the excellent work he has done here, in the House of Commons, and I wish him many good things for the future.