Mr. Speaker, it is a honour for me to take part in today's debate. This is a day that all aboriginals in Canada will remember, because once and for all, I hope, we will be able to enjoy the financial spinoffs generated by the resources on our ancestral lands.
The First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act provides us with the opportunity to solve our social problems. In fact, the income that we will reap from these lands may mean that we will be able invest additional funds in order to try to heal the social ills from which our people are suffering.
So, this is a great day for us all. For those like myself who had the opportunity to negotiate on behalf of aboriginal groups, October 6 will be a day when everything we have been seeking for the past 25 years is within our grasp.
I want to acknowledge the work done the government, which demonstrated respect by ensuring that aboriginals can one day live off the resources on their own ancestral lands. The resources on these lands will help us feel much prouder, since we will no longer feel as if we are at the government's mercy. Ultimately, we will benefit from the legacy our ancestors left us.
Bill C-54 is designed to enable first nations to manage and regulate oil and gas exploration and exploitation and to receive the money that is currently retained by Canada. This bill will allow the transfer to designated first nations of the management and control of oil and gas resources on their lands, and the payment to first nations of amounts held in trust by the Crown.
It is important to remind ourselves here that, in Canada, aboriginal people have a lower quality of life than non-aboriginal people, and to stress the importance of bridging this gap, as mentioned on many occasions, including in the October 5, 2004 Speech from the Throne.
To achieve this goals, many first nations consider that economic development is required. But that is a tall order for a first nation with no control over its lands and resources. In her November 2003 report, the Auditor General of Canada wrote that one of the barriers to economic development stemmed from the federal government's approach to institutional management and development. She also reported at the time that, according to many first nations, the process put in place by the department is too slow. It is designed for the short term and is sometimes poorly administered.
A large number of first nations and their organizations have worked diligently toward assuming greater responsibility for their lands and resources. The development of a new financial relationship between the first nations and the Government of Canada has always been the basis for discussions and analyses over the past 20 years or so.
Back in 1983, the report of the Special Committee on Indian Self-Government, the Penner report, already recommended that the financial relationship between the Government of Canada and the first nations be redefined.
In 1996, the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended a full review of the financial relationship between the federal government and the first nations. The proposed initiative focused on redefining this relationship within a broader context based on first nations self-government. The Tlicho self-government act that we had the honour of passing in this House is an example of this.
Bill C-54 will change the way oil and gas are developed and will allow first nations that are self-reliant to develop these resources on their own land. To date, first nations have had to comply with the Indian Oil and Gas Act and its regulations, which has not allowed them to manage these resources directly.
The first nations oil and gas management initiative was launched in February 1995. This pilot project provided for the gradual transfer of management and control of oil and gas resources on the land of five first nations.
This project was divided in three phases: co-management, enhanced co-management and management and control by first nations.
During the first phase, the administrative duties were shared between the first nations and IOGC, and decisions were made jointly. In the second phase, IOGC maintained its authority and the first nations received the necessary training to perform IOGC functions. The pilot project is now in its final phase. It needs Bill C-54 to pass in order for the powers to be transferred to those first nations meeting the requirements in the legislation.
This legislation does not allow first nations to manage the oil and gas resources on their land directly nor does it allow them to develop the appropriate regulatory framework.
However, Bill C-54 would allow any first nation, if it chooses to do so, to create regulations on oil and gas exploration and exploitation, on the spending of moneys derived from the exploitation of these resources, and on the protection of the environment.
As for rules for protecting the environment, those set up by first nations will have to at least meet the standards of Quebec or the province in which the aboriginal community is located.
As far as management of their finances are concerned, those first nations choosing to come under this new legislative framework will come under different rules as far as “Indian moneys” are concerned. These are currently defined in the Indian Act as all moneys collected, received or held by Her Majesty for the use and benefit of Indians or bands. For these first nations, the provisions of the Indian Act will no longer apply. They will therefore be able to directly administer the amounts collected rather than letting them be administered by the federal government. As a result, they will be able to make their own choices for investment in their communities instead of letting the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development dictate priorities to them. Auditor General Sheila Fraser pointed out in her 2004 report that this department is not doing a good job of administering the billions of dollars intended for the aboriginal communities.
If a first nation does not feel it would be advantageous to come under the new legislative regime, the current standards will continue to apply to it, so it will continue to benefit from the provisions of the Indian Act, including those that apply to the administration of Indian moneys.
In closing, we wish to reiterate that the Bloc Québécois endorses the key recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which set out an approach to self-government built on the recognition of Aboriginal governments as a level of government with jurisdiction over questions concerning governance and the welfare of their people. The entire report was based on recognition of the aboriginal peoples as independent nations occupying a unique place within Canada.
I would emphasize in closing that aboriginal resources have always represented boundless wealth to the peoples, and that the aboriginal peoples have always been close to the earth. They have, in fact, always wanted to use that wealth in exactly the same way as any people has a right to do.
Today we are recognizing that possibility. It is my hope that more aboriginal groups will have the pleasure of including these clauses within their agreement of self-government.