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House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.

Topics

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Madam Speaker, because we are possibly on the eve of an election or at least an election within a year and a half, depending on what the Prime Minister does, I think the government has a responsibility to provide those answers to the questions laid on the Order Paper. As I said, we conformed to Standing Order 39 completely. I think it is important to lay those facts on the table before we go into a federal election.

We are allowed to have a maximum of four questions on the Order Paper. I only have one on the Order Paper. I want the answers to those very important questions sooner than 45 days. That is simply not acceptable on the eve of an election. Assuming the government is going to sit on that and other contentious issues for 45 days is completely and utterly unacceptable.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Madam Speaker, it is easy to get up and debate this and, apparently, it is allowable, but the Standing Orders are clear. It is 45 days.

The member has not identified the question. It is impossible to respond. However he has acknowledged that it is less than 45 days. He may not like it but those are the Standing Orders and he must live with them.

The House resumed from May 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-30, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004, be read the third time and passed, and of the motion that the question be now put.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the budget implementation act.

I would like to focus on a couple of major deficiencies in the budget and I will use this as an occasion to do that in speaking to the bill.

The equalization formula that we have has totally shafted the province of Saskatchewan from every standpoint. Incidentally, for provinces such as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, it is not a very good formula either.

What I would like to do today is point out some of the problems with the equalization formula as it pertains to Saskatchewan. I am shocked that the Minister of Finance, being a person born and raised in Saskatchewan and who had an opportunity to deal with this issue, did not address the issue in the budget.

The object of equalization is to ensure that all provinces can provide roughly equivalent public services. This is simply not happening in my province of Saskatchewan. We are facing a fiscal crisis that I have never seen in my lifetime in that province. Taxes are extremely high. Young people are leaving the province in droves. Opportunities are evaporating before our eyes. The health care system is in crisis.

What is the average wait time for an MRI in the province of Saskatchewan? The average wait time is 22 months. Thousands upon thousands of Saskatchewan residents leave the province every year to go to MRI clinics in Alberta and North Dakota.

A doctor in my riding, who was the former president of the Canadian Medical Association, indicated to me that he had just sent 22 people to Calgary to receive MRI scans. They cannot wait 22 months. I do not know of any disease that can wait 22 months. It is totally unacceptable.

The surgical waiting list in Saskatchewan is 30 weeks. Imagine, Madam Speaker, if your car broke down and when you took it to the shop the mechanic told you that he would fix it in 30 weeks. It is twice as long as the wait time in the province of Manitoba which is right next to Saskatchewan.

I would like to blame all the problems in Saskatchewan on the New Democratic government that we have in Saskatchewan, but it is only partially responsible for the accumulation of these problems that we have in Saskatchewan. A good deal of the problem I have identified is the gross unfairness in the equalization formula.

I want to point out a couple of those discrepancies. I also want to point out that the Conservative Party has clearcut policies on this matter as opposed to the government across the way.

Over an extended period of time, let us say the last 10 years, there have been high inequities in the equalization payments. Saskatchewan over the past 10 years has received a little over $300 million per year on average in equalization. Manitoba, with a population of one million people, basically a similar type province, has received on average something in the order of $1.1 billion per year in equalization payments. That is a huge disparity. It is a $750 million per year difference.

The obvious question for anyone who would be listening to my speech would be this. Is Saskatchewan a lot wealthier and better off than the province of Manitoba? That would be the obvious conclusion that someone might come to with that kind of disparity.

However that is not the case. Over the past 10 years the average earned income in Manitoba has been over $1,000 per person higher than in Saskatchewan on a per annum basis. The earned income in the past year has been approximately $1,500 higher than the average Saskatchewan resident. Therefore, if we look at statistical indicators, Manitoba has a higher standard of living and a higher fiscal capacity than the province of Saskatchewan but it receives $750 million more on an annual basis under the equalization formula.

How did this injustice come about? Quite frankly, it is the federal Liberal government's equalization formula. I guess it believes in equality, but some people are a lot more equal than others in this country.

There are 33 tax bases in this formula. It is a very complicated formula. Twelve of those tax bases are non-renewable resources, things like potash, oil and gas, and uranium.

I want to make it clear that this formula is grossly unfair to a province that has non-renewable natural resources. Today, for every dollar the province of Saskatchewan earns out of oil and gas, it loses $1.25 in equalization payments. It is not even a dollar for dollar loss; it is $1.25 for every dollar that the province makes. This is bad policy. It is terrible policy. It punishes provinces for attempting to do the things they are supposed to be doing: developing their own economies, developing their non-renewable resources.

If a province develops its non-renewable resources and grows its economy, all of the other tax bases improve. Eventually, the need for equalization would disappear. It would disappear if there were correct policies in place.

It is interesting to note that the formula also ignores, from what I can read and what I have studied, other important sources of revenue. In the nation of Canada, the most important tax base in the country is geographic location. Southern Ontario is blessed to be right near the heartland of the United States, surrounded by the industrial heartland of the country. There is no accounting for that fact in the formula.

Manitoba Hydro and Quebec Hydro, if I understand the formula correctly, make a lot of money out of hydro power in this country, but it is not included in the equalization formula. That is a renewable resource, not a non-renewable resource. Some day the non-renewable resources will run out. These are renewable resources.

Those are some of the other inequities that exist in that formula.

Last but not least, the other problem is that this is supposed to be a national formula for all of Canada, but it is calculated on five provinces. That is very distorting and very unfair. The formula should be based on 10 provinces.

I am really surprised by the Minister of Finance. He should have known about these problems. He has been in this town for more than 10 years. He knows the problems we have in Saskatchewan. Here was an opportunity to tackle something like that. If any questions were raised about equalization, he would come up with the Kim Campbell comment, “This thing is just too complicated to discuss and to deal with,” and would just shrug it off.

There are two reforms to the formula that would make it much fairer for all concerned. The first one would be to eliminate, or at least reduce the emphasis on non-renewable resources in a major way. This could be done over four or five years and implemented on that basis. The other would be to change it to a 10 province national formula, not a five province formula.

These two moves alone would at least put Saskatchewan on the same footing as her sister province, Manitoba. Maybe we could buy a few more MRIs and a few other things in our province. If Saskatchewan was receiving the $750 million extra per year that Manitoba has been receiving, what would that mean for Saskatchewan?

Saskatchewan has three MRI machines, which is not very many. I think Turkey and Syria have a higher ratio than Saskatchewan. We could buy about 250 MRIs for $750 million. Somebody told me that with $750 million we could train something like 20,000 nurses and we could hire something like 3,000 doctors. I am just using these as examples of what could be done with that amount of money.

We could probably drastically and permanently reduce property taxes in Saskatchewan. They are killing the farm economy. Our property taxes are at an unbelievable level.

Those are some of the things we could do if that formula were fair in any way at all. The Minister of Finance seems to be oblivious to these problems and does not seem to be prepared to even look at them.

When the budget was presented, this was certainly an issue I was looking at. I was very disappointed to see very little done with this formula, except for some minor tinkering. What does the minor tinkering mean this year for Saskatchewan? There were some measures put into the budget that deal with what the Minister of Finance called some inequities, some transitional matters.

This year the province of Manitoba, with one million people, is receiving $1.1 billion in equalization payments. Saskatchewan, without the changes that the Minister of Finance brought in, would have received $7 million. In what I think is probably the worst year I can remember in the province of Saskatchewan with the problems we have in that province, we get $7 million. After the tinkering, it goes up to $130 million. It is about an $850 million shortfall compared to our sister province of Manitoba.

When the Minister of Finance has been asked this question, he has said that it is too complicated to discuss with anybody. I guess it is Saskatchewan's responsibility to carry on its shoulders this flawed equalization plan for the benefit of other provinces. Is it any wonder when a poll is conducted about people's attachment to Canada and the degree of alienation they have toward the country, that Saskatchewan has the highest number of people who feel alienated about this country.

Nobody on that side of the House, quite honestly, including the Minister of Finance, seems to give two hoots about a very, very serious problem. This formula is unfair. It is shocking. I do not know what terminology I could use to describe the matter.

The Auditor General in her reports on government policy said that what she found was shocking. She found the way the government handled other things was that all of the rules were broken.

As a resident of Saskatchewan, I am looking at a formula that does not serve our province very well at all. As I stated at the onset, in many respects it shafts the people of Saskatchewan to the umpteenth degree. What is the government's response to this very serious problem? The finance minister says that it is too complicated to discuss.

I want to close my objection to equalization with a few comments. Many people have said that the new Conservative Party does not have any policies. Well, on this issue it does. It proposes to change the formula to a national 10 province formula. It also proposes to phase out non-renewable resources as a component of that formula over a five year period. That would be very welcome news in the province of Saskatchewan.

It is what people in Saskatchewan want. They want a federal government that knows how to effectively and efficiently manage and spend taxpayers' dollars. This would be one way of doing it. They do not want their dollars spent on boondoggles, on firearms registries, on sponsorship programs, on unity funds, and goodness knows what else the government can find to spend money on here.

We are just asking for the things that count to people in Saskatchewan. We want the financial capacity and tools so that tax dollars can be spent in an effective and efficient way for all people in that province. It is just not happening under the present structure.

I would also like to point out that over the course of the federal election, when it does come, the Conservative Party will be announcing ways in which government can restructure and redirect government spending in this town that are far more efficient and effective for Canadian people. I know there will be Liberal friends and Liberal narrow interest groups and supporters who will not like this because they have been receiving a disproportionate share of the public purse. The Liberal government has been very good at taking care of its friends, pals, buddies and special interest groups while it neglects whole regions of the country, such as Saskatchewan.

My party will be addressing that. We are going to design fiscal policies which are good for Canadians at large, not special interest groups or Liberal pals and friends, but policies that are good for every single Canadian from one end of the country to the other. If we have the good fortune of forming government, we are going to try to dismantle this entire culture of incompetence and corruption that has built up in this town.

I want to quickly address another omission in the budget speech. The Prime Minister, in his run-up to becoming the Prime Minister and leader of the party, had much to say about the urban agenda. His government was going to get on to the urban agenda and address those issues and the municipal problems in the country. He met with mayors and all sorts of people and raised their expectations really high. There is not a whole lot in the budget on the urban agenda that the Prime Minister huffed and puffed about.

I want to raise a few questions about his proposed solutions to the urban problems. Number one, this country is both urban and rural. There is something inherently wrong with a federal government taking a slice of our society and creating a special department and bureaucracy to deal with it while the rest of the country, the rural area, has all sorts of problems as well. That is one objection I have. The last thing the people in Saskatchewan want in the city of Ottawa is another government department. The last thing we need in Ottawa is a department of urban affairs. That is more bureaucracy, more government and more taxpayer dollars.

Another thing we do not want is another three ring circus involving the federal government, the provinces and the municipalities. To me, three is a crowd. We do not need the federal government in there. They have always been difficult people to deal with at the local level so why in the world would we want to be introducing more of the federal government into our local decision making?

I just want to point out that the Conservative Party proposes a solution to this problem. We would take between 3¢ and 5¢ of the federal fuel tax, per litre of fuel, and rebate or transfer that to the provinces on the condition that the provinces would use it for two items: transportation needs and municipal infrastructure concerns. This would get the federal government entirely out of the picture. It would give the provinces the fiscal capacity to deal with their infrastructure and transportation problems in the cities and in the rural areas.

That would be a very simple way to deal with the problem. It would be an efficient and effective way to deal with it. I think most Canadians would accept this approach. We would be bypassing the creation of some federal government department in Ottawa and the creation of a three ring circus.

With that, Madam Speaker, I thank you for being a very attentive listener. I thought you would be taking notes during my speech, but I guess you will read Hansard tomorrow.

I think these are the sorts of issues that Canadian voters should be concerned about when we do get plunged into a federal election: really addressing the imbalances and problems we have in the country and getting the nation on the right track.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

Is the House ready for the question?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Budget Implementation Act, 2004Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

Call in the members.

At the request of the chief government whip, the vote is deferred until 5:29 p.m. today.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Willowdale Ontario

Liberal

Jim Peterson Liberalfor the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

moved that Bill C-23, an act to provide for real property taxation powers of first nations, to create a First Nations Tax Commission, First Nations Financial Management Board, First Nations Finance Authority and First Nations Statistical Institute and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Yukon Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, drin queesy shilakat .

I am delighted to speak to Bill C-23 today. There are different views on different aspects of this legislation and there is some lack of clarity in regard to some areas. I hope to quickly get through my speech and then try to add some light to some of the issues that have been brought up, and make sure that people totally understand them and understand why we see, putting all of those issues together, that this bill would be of benefit to first nations people.

I will begin by saying that the bill was started by a group of first nations people. After working with the financial system's institutions, they approached us years ago because they felt they needed these new institutions. We have been working for a long time to bring this issue forward.

My only interest in any of the initiatives that I support here as parliamentary secretary is that of trying to help in conditions for first nations people. If I can be convinced that an initiative will do that, then I will support it. I look forward to listening to the various views on this issue.

I rise to support Bill C-23, the first nations fiscal and statistical management act. The legislation would provide first nations with access to the financing tools they need to promote investment in their communities. This investment will no doubt lead to improvements in the quality of life for residents of these communities.

I believe my hon. colleagues all agree on the clear and pressing need to bridge the economic and social gaps that exist between Canada's aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities. Nowhere are these gaps more apparent than in the lack of capital infrastructure. Many first nation communities lack adequate water and sewage treatment facilities. Other components of basic capital infrastructure, such as roads and power lines, are crumbling or non-existent.

Capital infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain. That is why most municipal and provincial governments finance their infrastructure projects with special measures such as long term bonds and securities. While these bonds may pay low rates of interest, they offer a level of certainty that investors find attractive and, as a result, they will invest in these projects.

First nation communities, however, do not have ready access to the bond markets. As a result, first nations are forced to raised money locally, usually through short term loans that can be relatively expensive. This results in each dollar generated by first nations buying less.

Due to the higher interest rates and transaction and negotiating fees, these communities pay up to 50% more than municipalities or provinces to finance their capital works projects. Consequently, infrastructure projects are either delayed or dropped. Plans for economic and social development stall, and first nations struggle to move ahead.

Bill C-23 aims to breathe new life into these communities. Simply put, this legislation would enable first nations to access capital needed to finance major infrastructure projects by allowing them to issue investment-grade securities, financial instruments similar to government bonds. The first nations that approached us of course found out after years of trying that they just could not do this under the existing financial systems in place in Canada.

The first nations finance authority will play a central role in this venture by pooling the capital requirements of participating first nation communities. By combining the assets and liabilities of all participants, the authority will be able to issue bonds with a credit rating that will attract investors. Discussions with representatives of bond raters and underwriters have indicated that there is every reason to expect that the authority will earn a single A credit rating, which would yield an attractive return for investors, with minimal risk. That is the advantage of combining first nations together in the system: investors will see that their risk is more secure. This is a commonplace activity in financial markets.

Advice on the structure and operations of the authority has been provided by the Royal Bank, the Dominion Bond Rating Services and Moody's Investors Service of New York, key players in both Canadian and international financial institutions. The Municipal Finance Authority of British Columbia has operated effectively for nearly a decade, enabling numerous smaller communities in British Columbia to access debt capital at affordable rates. The Municipal Finance Authority of B.C. has offered to help the finance authority build on this success and minimize investor risk.

As an independent institution, the authority would pool the capital requirements of member first nations and then issue bonds on their behalf so that the persons holding the bond would have less risk because there would be a number of projects involved. Moneys raised would go back to the participating first nations in the form of loans. This process would be strictly controlled through a series of checks and balances.

To become a member of the finance authority, the first nation must have a property tax regime established under this bill and approved by the first nations tax commission. It must also have in place a sound and effective management system certified by the financial management board. Participating first nations must have unutilized borrowing capacity and have a capital infrastructure project approved by the band council and reviewed by the tax commission.

Of course, there is a purpose for all these checks. If we are to convince these Canadian and international investors to invest in these projects, they need to be assured that these checks have taken place, and of course it is great that they would be done by a first nation institution.

I would like to be clear. Bonds issued by the finance authority are based on property tax revenues. There are no provisions in Bill C-23 that would require first nations to use reserve lands as collateral. This is an exciting part of the bill, because anywhere else, including the banks and the financial institutions, they usually would be required to place their land forward. This system is set up very wisely by the first nations, so that it is based only on their future property taxes. They do not have to, under any circumstances, give up their land.

Further, to ensure even greater protection for investors, a minimum of 5% of the value of each bond issue will be kept in a debt reserve fund established by the finance authority. That is just another way of securing things for the investors and it would have a minimum impact on any one first nation that decided to use this mechanism to borrow funds.

In addition, the Government of Canada is committed to contribute up to $10 million to a separate credit enhancement fund, the same fund that was the subject of one of the report stage motions previously before Parliament. The combination of these funds will further support the achievement of the desired single A rating. So once again the federal government will help backstop it, the deposit will help backstop it and, in the long run, the tax regime will help backstop it so that there is no other draw on any first nations assets or land.

All of these measures address only one aspect of the problems facing first nations: that of limited access to capital. To improve the quality of life in first nation communities, aboriginal leaders must also have access to the tools they need to be able to plan effectively. This brings me to the importance of the first nations statistical institute.

Sound planning decisions are always informed by accurate, current statistics. Information on population growth, income levels and property values helps establish government plans and priorities. At present, the quality of first nations social and economic statistics is inadequate. Even such basic statistics as population counts for communities are not reliable. Currently first nations do not have access to the kinds of statistical information available to the majority of Canadians: information on housing, justice, natural resource management, culture, education, employment rates, and health.

The lack of reliable and comprehensive data on first nation communities hinders planning and access to essential economic and social tools. Without reliable comparative material, making accurate assessments of the relative health of any first nation community becomes extremely difficult. Of course these statistics will help first nations when they are applying for program funding. They will have a much better case to make with the availability of these statistics, and we would not be able to say, “no, that is not true”, because the statistics would then be available.

To address this issue, Bill C-23 would establish the first nations statistical institute. The institute would provide first nations with the statistical information needed to plan successfully. It would work directly with aboriginal organizations and government agencies to help first nations identify and meet their information needs. The institute would also play a vital role in assisting first nations to build their capacity to understand and utilize statistics. Thus, first nations would be able to improve their accountability and decision making capacity.

It is important to note the valuable contributions that the statistical institute would make to the property tax and borrowing regimes established by this bill. First nations would benefit from statistics on residents and commercial enterprises on reserve in determining whether to proceed with the implementation of a property tax regime, which of course is totally optional. No one has to get into property taxes if they do not want to. I think there are about 98 first nations to date that have chosen to have a property tax regime and another 14 or so are waiting for this bill. No one has to if they are not interested in doing so. The statistical institute will certainly help those who choose to do it.

First nations would benefit from stats on residents and commercial enterprises on reserve in determining how to proceed with this property tax system. Further statistical information is a required element in the development of the capital projects which underlie the issuing of first nations bonds by the finance authority.

By encouraging first nations to use and thus understand the value of stats, the institute will also encourage first nations to participate more fully in national statistics programs. This will help ensure that the Government of Canada has the statistical information needed to develop and implement efficient policies. In this way the statistical institute will complement the role of Statistics Canada. For me it will be very helpful in lobbying for first nations programs and the resources required if I have these more detailed statistics.

I am convinced that Bill C-23 contains the checks and balances needed to protect the investors, to convince them to invest in first nations and to ensure that first nations can develop their economies. By establishing effective statistical and fiscal institutions, Bill C-23 will lead to significant improvements in the quality of life of residents of first nations communities. I am speaking of the ones that have asked for this bill. Of course other first nations communities are working on other initiatives in other areas and lots of other work is being done by the department in those areas. By providing the community leaders with the tools they need, the legislation will draw more first nation communities into the economic mainstream and clearly all Canadians stand to benefit.

As I said at the beginning, I have tried to dialogue with people to understand some of the concerns they might have had about this and I want to speak informally to try to address some of those concerns.

First, as we know, the Prime Minister held a summit a couple of weeks ago to talk about a new way of doing business. In particular he emphasized the fact that first nations ideas were not just coming from the various parties in Ottawa, but from first nations people. That is what is very exciting about this bill.

We were approached by certain first nations people. Lots of others do not have an interest in this and it is of course totally optional. This idea has come from first nations people. When the first nations people presented the major concerns, as per the Prime Minister's relationship with them, he has taken those concerns and put them in the amendments.

There are two major concerns. First, some people suggested that they are collecting property taxes now and they do not want to change that. They want to keep the Indian Act the way it is. They do not want to be forced into the new regime and some of the elements about which I have talked today. Those provisions were left in the Indian Act. People who want to continue collecting property taxes under the Indian Act may continue to do so. It is staying the same. The new first nations that decide they want to collect property taxes can do so under the Indian Act, if they so choose. As I have said, it is totally voluntary.

The other thing we did in response to the feedback from some first nations was made it totally optional. First nations do not have to participate in this under any circumstances if they do not want. It is not a requirement. Some first nations came to a spot where certain financial institutions in the modern world economy of financing would help them. They asked us to put institutions in place that they could use and anyone who wanted to could use.

Under a new relationship, when first nations people bring something forward, and many first nations have supported this, it is hard to tell them no, we cannot give them this tool, if it is totally optional.

I want to clarify that the $10 million, which I spoke of earlier, from the Government of Canada is not a guarantee. It is a one time contribution. The government does not backstop this institution. I explained in my speech the number of items it would backstop.

This is just one of many bills we have brought forward since the summit. As the House knows, from my perspective land claims and self-government are ultimate goals. They are very successful in my area. We have tremendous efforts going on in that area to complete those as quickly as possible. There is $226 million of extra money in this year's estimates so we can keep moving ahead as quickly as we can on land claims and self-government and the ultimate goal for those first nations that want to move ahead in that manner.

The estimate is that this could take many decades to cover everyone. Some first nations have chosen to have these institutes so they can move ahead in this area. That is why the bill goes along with all the others. We have just passed the Westbank self-government and we are in the process of debating the Tlicho self-government and land claim, which of course is a high priority.

For other first nations, property taxes may be the last of their problems at the moment. They want clean water, sewers and food. They need economic development. They want to get the governing and basic needs in their community taken care of.

There are many programs in the department for those first nations. In the estimates there is an increase of $400 million for other programs to provide for those basic services. That is obviously not forgotten. It is a very big need for which I will continue to push.

There is some suggestion that there are no other options. People have to get their lands assessed if they want to get loans. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This is totally voluntary. First nations have different ways to get loans. They can go to the bank. First nations can set up their own institutions. They can do what everyone else does to get loans. They would not have to do anything under the bill because it is totally optional.

However, the first nations that have come forward have financial institutions, have property tax bases and want to move ahead in managing them themselves. They want institutions governed by first nations people. Those first nations found that they could not get the type of bonding they wanted at a certain level. Therefore, they asked the government to put this process in place. That is why we are proceeding this way today.

The last thing is this is not only for a select few. It is not just for big cities. There are many first nations in rural areas with very little assets. They would like to or are participating in tax collection. If there is any way we could improve it, we would, but we have had improvements since the 1990s in development with advisory boards. These institutions are not in place now, but there are advisory boards of first nations people to help advise on each institution.

That is why there has been so many years of work on this. In my opinion this is why it would be great if we could proceed at this time. Massi cho ;

Gunalchese

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I listened to the comments of my colleague from Yukon. I will ask a couple of questions and hopefully he can give me the answers.

The first question is whether my colleague is aware that the Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution last year not to support this and other bills that the government had put forward. To my knowledge, it has not changed that position. The Assembly of First Nations, which the government does give resources to, is the representing body of first nations throughout Canada, not just 30 or 40 or 50 that might want this. It represents over 600 first nations in Canada. How does he get around suggesting that first nations want this when there is an Assembly of First Nations resolution, which is still in place, indicating that they do not support the legislation?

I am also quite curious as to where he would expect a good number of those first nation members to get the taxes to pay on their property? I never cease to be amazed. I listened to the former minister Nault talk about how first nations people wanted mortgages. My God, I went into communities and they wanted enough food to eat. They wanted enough money to pay for the heat in their homes. They sure did not need a mortgage on top of it. That is where the government is. It has no idea how first nations live in the country.

I want my colleague to tell me where the members of Bloodvein, Paungassi, Little Grand Rapids, Shamattawa, Poplar River, Pukatawagan, Brochet, Lac Brochet, Tadoule Lake, and I could go on and on, are supposed to get those wonderful property tax dollars to get an investment down so they can get a loan?

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

The hon. parliamentary secretary in response. Before he responds, just a caution to the member not to use the real names of members. Be aware of that. The hon. parliamentary secretary.

First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, it is too bad that the members from the NDP and the Bloc know so little about this bill. First, in relation to the Assembly of First Nations, if the member were listening, she would have heard that we took those concerns and placed them in the amendments. Now the bill is totally optional, and the eligible items are still in the Indian Act. I will read a passage from the website of the Assembly of First Nations. It states:

We also raised with the Minister our concerns about Bill C-23 (formerly Bill C-19), the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Institutions Act, which was re-introduced on March 10, 2004. Our preference was that the Bill not be re-introduced until the concerns of First Nations were addressed.

The indications I received were to the effect that the government will introduce amendments to the Bill--

We have done that.

--to clarify that the legislation will be optional. Once the information is received it will be shared with First Nations as soon as it is available. We will keep First Nations informed on this and any and all developments related to Bill C-23. We also recognize that some First Nation communities are interested in participating in one or more of the institutions created under the Act.

If the proposed amendments achieve optionality, in accordance with the principles of the AFN Charter, the AFN should not stand in the way.

In relation to the number of first nations, she suggested 50 or 60. First, even if we were only helping one first nation of people, I would be pushing for this bill, just like I did for Westbank, just like I did for Tlicho. If I talk--

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The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

I do hate to interrupt, but I do have to make it very clear that the audience in the House of Commons are all Canadians and are all very much welcome here, but there cannot be any response. That includes clapping. So if it continues, I am afraid we will have to remove people from here and I do not want to do that.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, the House of Commons is dealing with two different bills that will help one single first nation. If I could help one first nation, in fact one first nation person, and if it were optional and it did not hurt the others, then I would be happy to do that.

Even though I do it for only one, the member suggested 50 or 60. There were resolutions from the British Columbia summit of 138 first nations, the Union of Ontario Indians of 43, and the Atlantic Policy Congress of 35 to 216.

With respect to her last question, once again showing a total lack of understanding of the bill, she asked where are we going to get the taxes to pay? First of all, this bill is not designed for those people who do not have money to pay taxes. In fact, most of the people paying taxes on first nations taxable authorities right now are non-first nations people living on first nations land.

Members know that we just had the Westbank bill where there are 7,500 people and only 400 or so are from the first nation. This provides authorities with the ability to attract commerce if people want to do taxes, and to tax people that have the ability to pay taxes. I do not know why she would want to hold back successful first nations when it is totally optional.

The first nations that she mentioned, as I said earlier, if they do not want to collect property taxes, if they do not have a rationale that will help their first nation to do that, and if they do not have the capacity to pay, then they do not have to get involved in this bill. The bill is to help those who have asked for it.

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Bloc

Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a question for the parliamentary secretary. He talks about this being optional and says that the legislation will not apply to first nations who are not interested.

Can he tell me precisely where in the bill it says that first nations not wanting to comply with the provisions of this legislation will be protected? Also, how can we protect first nations from officials at the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development who might say to them, “If you want this money, you have to comply with the requirements of this legislation”?

We saw cases during our tours and meetings with first nations representatives where officials from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development—like the former minister of that department—were incredibly arrogant. They pointed the finger at the first nations and made them comply with their requirements.

How can we protect the first nations from such behaviour that I am sure will take place? Tell me exactly where I can find the optional aspect of this bill. Where exactly?

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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, the member knows quite well that the bill is totally optional. The amendments made them optional. The first nations sign up on a schedule.

The point the member has raised, which is definitely a good point even if it has nothing to do with the bill, about the workings of bureaucrats, of course, unacceptable behaviour should be dealt with.

We as a government have great confidence in civil servants in general, the civil servants who work for the Province of Quebec, and the civil servants who work for the Government of Canada. If the member has examples, as he described, of civil servants dealing arrogantly with any of our Canadian citizens then he should take that through the proper channels to have it corrected. I agree with the member that it is totally unacceptable for people to act that way.

We should not hold back any particular legislation in this country because it will be abused by some bureaucrat. We should deal with individuals and, as I said, I think they are very few and far between. When they are identified, then such their actions should be held to task and be accountable. I am hoping that everyone in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is there to help advance the cause of first nations in this country that have such a great disparity with the rest of Canadians.

Different first nations are in different stages and so they need different solutions. Some require the basic services. Some first nations are ready for land claims and we are in negotiations with them in bills. Some of them have asked for this. We should be flexible.

If our employees are not being flexible and open, then please let us know and I agree that we should fix the problem.